Cryptosociety: The Dark Economy and Technologies of Freedom

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“We will replace insurance companies. We will replace Wall Street. – Joseph Lubin

Under the hood of capitalism flows another world, a dark world of economic counter-insurgents. A realm of noirpreneurs who slip the electronic seeds of an anarchic future of pure freedom beyond the capture systems of global governance. A cryptosociety of dark capitalists who live in the shadow markets outside the global eye. This darker world of the bitcoin and blockchain revolution is unleashing the teeth of a global systemic exit, a techno-secessionism that seeks not only to forget capital’s fractured End Game but to undercut its all too human roots in transparency with utter opaqueness and anonymity.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” says Amir Taaki. “Like a hydra, those of us in the community that push for individual empowerment are in an arms race to equip the people with the tools needed for the next generation of digital black markets.” (from Inside the Dark Market by Andy Greenberg) As the blurb on Consensys site envisions the opening out from bitcoins to the larger framework of the global use of blockchain technologies state it: “Blockchain technology and dApps have the ability to decentralize power from existing authorities in business, law, and technology to a broad set of stakeholders. This shift will disrupt current business, economic and social paradigms. Transaction costs and barriers to entry in various industries will be reduced in these industries. The result will likely be an increase in economic exchange and prosperity.”

Taaki argues that he’s merely distributing a program–not running a criminal conspiracy. “I’m just a humble coder,” he says. “Code is a form of expression. You can’t imprison someone for speaking an idea.” Yet, it can be used to counter your so to speak techno-anarchistic neutrality. This open source vision of expression is nothing more than subterfuge, and less than it seems. What’s ironic is that Taaki and those anarchist of the new economy of black markets and terminal exit from the system through a form of techno-secessionism are already being coopted by the very powers they seek to accelerate beyond. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for this anarchic wave of dissent and techno-secessionism toward alternative sub-cultures and techno-tribalism etc.

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The Global Cyberwar: The Alogrithms of Intelligent Malware

When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world . Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.1

Wired has an article by Kim Zetter An Unprecedented Look at Stuxnet, the World’s First Digital Weapon which elaborates on the now widely known collaboration between US and Israeli intelligence agencies seeking a way to infiltrate and slow down or destroy centrifuges in the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran.

Needless to say they were successful, yet in their success they failed miserably. Why? As you read the quoted passage again you notice the code that was originally brought into the closed facility by way of memory sticks was released into the computers by way of flash drives. And after it was slowly unwound, installed and phased into it operative mode it began to work through the networks of the facility until by chance or accident it discovered itself outside the facility and on the internet. So that as James Barrat reminds us we “do not know the downstream implications of delivering this powerful technology into the hands of our enemies. How bad could it get? An attack on elements of the U.S. power grid, for starters.” (Barrat, 261-262)

The article by Zetter doesn’t mention this fatal flaw in the plan, and how the malware is now spreading across the globe and is available for even our enemies to use against us. As Barrat states it a former head of cyberdefense at DHS Sean McGurk was asked on a CBS 60 Minutes interview if he’d been asked would he have built such a malware application:

MCGURK: [Stuxnet’s creators] opened up the box. They demonstrated the capability. They showed the ability and the desire to do so. And it’s not something that can be put back.
KROFT: If somebody in the government had come to you and said, “Look, we’re thinking about doing this. What do you think?” What would you have told them? MCGURK: I would have strongly cautioned them against it because of the unintended consequences of releasing such a code.
KROFT: Meaning that other people could use it against you?
MCGURK: Yes.

(Barrat, 260)

The segment ends with German industrial control systems expert Ralph Langner. Langner “discovered” Stuxnet by taking it apart in his lab and testing its payload. He tells 60 Minutes that Stuxnet dramatically lowered the dollar cost of a terrorist attack on the U.S. electrical grid to about a million dollars. Elsewhere, Langner warned about the mass casualties that could result from unprotected control systems throughout America, in “important facilities like power, water, and chemical facilities that process poisonous gases.”

“What’s really worrying are the concepts that Stuxnet gives hackers,” said Langner. “Before, a Stuxnet-type attack could have been created by maybe five people. Now it’s more like five hundred who could do this. The skill set that’s out there right now, and the level required to make this kind of thing, has dropped considerably simply because you can copy so much from Stuxnet.”

(Barrat, 261-265)

 As one analyst put it Stuxnet is remarkably complex, but is hardly extraordinary. Some analysts have described it as a Frankenstein of existing cyber criminal tradecraft – bits and pieces of existing knowledge patched together to create a chimera. The analogy is apt and, just like the literary Frankenstein, the monster may come back to haunt its creators. The virus leaked out and infected computers in India, Indonesia, and even the U.S., a leak that occurred through an error in the code of a new variant of Stuxnet sent into the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. This error allowed the Stuxnet worm to spread into an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges, and when he left the facility and connected his computer to the Internet the worm did not realize that its environment had changed. Stuxnet began spreading and replicating itself around the world. The Americans blamed the Israelis, who admitted nothing, but whoever was at fault, the toothpaste was out of the tube.2

Deibert goes on to say the real significance of Stuxnet lies not in its complexity, or in the political intrigue involved (including the calculated leaks), but in the threshold that it crossed: major governments taking at least implicit credit for a cyber weapon that sabotaged a critical infrastructure facility through computer coding. No longer was it possible to counter the Kasperskys and Clarkeses of the world with the retort that their fears were simply “theoretical.” Stuxnet had demonstrated just what type of damage can be done with black code. (Deibert, KL 2728)

Such things are just the tip of the iceberg, too. The world of cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cyberwar is a thriving billion dollar industry that is flourishing as full time aspect of the global initiatives of almost every major player on the planet. As reported in the NY Times U.S. Blames China’s Military Directly for Cyberattack. The Obama administration explicitly accused China’s military of mounting attacks on American government computer systems and defense contractors, saying one motive could be to map “military capabilities that could be exploited during a crisis.”  While countries like Russian target their former satellites Suspicion Falls on Russia as ‘Snake’ Cyberattacks Target Ukraine’s Government: According to a report published by the British-based defense and security company BAE Systems, dozens of computer networks in Ukraine have been infected for years by a cyberespionage “tool kit” called Snake, which seems similar to a system that several years ago plagued the Pentagon, where it attacked classified systems.

Bloomberg summarized this concept this the following statement:

“The U.S. national security apparatus may be dominant in the physical world, but it’s far less prepared in the virtual one. The rules of cyberwarfare are still being written, and it may be that the deployment of attack code is an act of war as destructive as the disabling of any real infrastructure. And it’s an act of war that can be hard to trace: Almost four years after the initial NASDAQ intrusion, U.S. officials are still sorting out what happened. Although American military is an excellent deterrent, it doesn’t work if you don’t know whom to use it on.”

As Deibert warns we are wrapping ourselves in expanding layers of digital instructions, protocols, and authentication mechanisms, some of them open, scrutinized, and regulated, but many closed, amorphous, and poised for abuse, buried in the black arts of espionage, intelligence gathering, and cyber and military affairs. Is it only a matter of time before the whole system collapses? (Deibert, KL 2819)

At one time President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the growing Military-Industrial Complex in the era of the 50’s, now we have Deibert suggests an ever-growing cyber security industrial complex, a world where a rotating cast of characters moves in and out of national security agencies and the private sector companies that service them. (Deibert, KL 2927) For those in the defence and intelligence services industry this scenario represents an irresistibly attractive market opportunity. Some estimates value cyber-security military-industrial business at upwards of US $150 billion annually. (Deibert, KL 3022) The digital arms trade for products and services around “active defence” may end up causing serious instability and chaos. Frustrated by their inability to prevent constant penetrations of their networks through passive defensive measures, it is becoming increasingly legitimate for companies to take retaliatory measures. (ibid., 3079)

Malicious software that pries open and exposes insecure computing systems is developing at a rate beyond the capacities of cyber security agencies even to count, let alone mitigate. Data breaches of governments, private sector companies, NGOS, and others are now an almost daily occurrence, and systems that control critical infrastructure – electrical grids, nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities – have been demonstrably compromised. (Deibert, KL 3490) The social forces leading us down the path of control and surveillance are formidable, even sometimes appear to be inevitable. But nothing is ever inevitable. (Deibert, KL 3532)


In Mind Factory Slavoj Zizek will ask the question: Are we entering the posthuman era? He will then go on to say that the survival of being-human by humans cannot depend on an ontic decision by humans.3

Instead he reminds us we should admit that the true catastrophe has already happened: we already experience ourselves as in principle manipulable, we need only freely renounce ourselves to fully deploy these potentials. But the crucial point is that, not only will our universe of meaning disappear with biogenetic planning, i.e. not only are the utopian descriptions of the digital paradise wrong, since they imply that meaning will persist; the opposite, negative, descriptions of the “meaningless” universe of technological self-manipulation is also the victim of a perspective fallacy , it also measures the future with inadequate present standards. That is to say, the future of technological self-manipulation only appears as “deprived of meaning” if measured by (or, rather, from within the horizon of) the traditional notion of what a meaningful universe is. Who knows what this “posthuman” universe will reveal itself to be “in itself”? (Mind Factory, KL 368-66)

What if there is no singular and simple answer, what if the contemporary trends (digitalisation, biogenetic self-manipulation) open themselves up to a multitude of possible symbolisations? What if the utopia— the pervert dream of the passage from hardware to software of a subjectivity freely floating between different embodiments— and the dystopia— the nightmare of humans voluntarily transforming themselves into programmed beings— are just the positive and the negative of the same ideological fantasy? What if it is only and precisely this technological prospect that fully confronts us with the most radical dimension of our finitude?(Mind Factory, KL 366-83)

With so many things going on in the sciences, military, governments, nations etc. where are the watchdogs that can discern the trends? Who can give answer to all the myriad elements that are making up this strange new posthuman era we all seem blindly moving toward? Or is it already here? With Malware on the loose, algorithms that manipulate, grow, improve on the loose around the globe; as well as being reprogramed by various unknown governments, criminal syndicates, hackers: what does the man/woman on the street do? As Nick Land will say of one of his alter ego’s

Vauung seems to think there are lessons to be learnt from this despicable mess.4


 

1. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (p. 261). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Deibert, Ronald J. (2013-05-14). Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace (Kindle Locations 2721-2728). McClelland & Stewart. Kindle Edition.
3. Armand, Louis; Zizek, Slavoj; Critchley, Simon; McCarthy, Tom; Wark, McKenzie; Ulmer, Gregory L.; Kroker, Arthur; Tofts, Darren; Lewty, Jane (2013-07-19). Mind Factory (Kindle Locations 367-368). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
4. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Location 9008). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

Posthuman Economics: The Empire of Capital

Maybe what haunts posthumanism is not technology but utopian capitalism, the dark silences long repressed, excluded, disavowed, and negated within the Empire of Capital.  Franco Berardi’s The Uprising grabs the history of art and capital by the horns as the slow and methodical implementation of the Idealist program. By this he means the dereferentialization of reality – or what we term now the semioitization of reality: the total annihilation of any connection between signifier and signified, word and thing, mind and world. Instead we live in a world structured by fantasy that over time has dematerialized reality.

In economics it was Richard Nixon (1972) who cut the link between financial capital and its referent, the gold standard which subtly dematerialized monetarism of the neoliberal era. This slow vanishing act of reality into its digital matrix has in our time become so naturalized that we have forgotten how much our lives are enmeshed in fictions divorced from even the illusion of reality. As Berardi will put it:

The premise of neoliberal dogmatism is the reduction of social life to the mathematical implications of financial algorithms. What is good for finance must be good for society, and if society does not accept this identification and submission, then that means that society is incompetent, and needs to be redressed by some technical authority.1

He speaks of the moment when the newly elected Greek President Papandreou actually had the audacity to question the EU’s austerity program and was summarily ousted by the new entity, The Markets, and replaced with a consultant from Goldman-Sachs. He asks calmly, What is this blind god, the Markets?

Markets are the visible manifestation of the inmost mathematical interfunctionality of algorithms embedded in the techno-linguistic machine: they utter sentences that change the destiny of the living body of society, destroy resources, and swallow the energies of the collective body like a draining pump. (Berardi, 32)

In this sense we are already being run by the machinic systems of math and computation at the core of our economic system. As he tells it the humans behind the system are not fascists, yet they allow society to be enslaved by a mathematical system of economics and financialization, which is clean, smooth, perfect, and efficient. The financial orthodoxy would have you believe that all things should act efficiently. Like all orthodoxies it offers comfort and guidance, but, as orthodoxies do, it also has the power to wound those who cannot follow its dogmas or who resist its rituals of conformity. It is technological because it has primarily to do with making things work, and it is particularly apparent in the contemporary emphasis on quantifiable productivity and associated fears of waste, especially the waste of time.2

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once developed his theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.3 Thinking of flow and efficiency one discovers the key is the concept of flow-of information or of goods, for example-and the role of efficiency in preventing disruptions. This suggests that beneath the zeal for efficiency lies the desire to control a changing world, to keep an optimal and peak level of flow going at all times in society and combatting and preventing anything that might disrupt that flow.

In Berardi’s mathematization of society we’re no longer consumers and users, but have instead become as Bruce Sterling tells us in The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Thingsparticipants under machine surveillance, whose activities are algorithmically combined within Big Data silos” (Sterling, KL 30). So that in this sense we are no longer embodied humans, but are instead bits of data floating among the wired worlds of our digital economy. But a fascinating aspect of the Internet of things is that the giants who control the major thrust within its reaches Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft could care less about efficiency. No. They in fact don’t bother to “compete” with each other because their real strategy is to “disrupt”. Rather than “competing” – becoming more efficient at doing something specific – “disruption” involves a public proof that the rival shouldn’t even exist.(Sterling, KL 212-216)

The basic order of the economic day is coded in the language of noir dime novels. “Knifing the baby” means deliberately appropriating the work of start-ups before they can become profitable businesses. “Stealing the oxygen” means seeing to it that markets don’t even exist – that no cash exchanges hands, while that formerly profitable activity is carried out on a computer you control. (Sterling, KL 224)

Yet, underneath all the glitter and glitz is the hard truth of reality. If the Internet of things is a neo-feudal empire of tyrant corporations disrupting the flows of efficient commerce in a bid to attain greater and greater power and influence, then the world of austerity and nation states outside the wires is preparing for the barbarians. As Berardi relates it outside the cold steel wires of financial digi-tyranny we can already see the violent underbelly of the old physical body of the social raising its reactionary head: nation, race, ethnic cleansing, and religious fundamentalism are running rampant around the globe. While the digital-elite pirate away the world of finance the forgotten citizenry outside the digital fortress are preparing for war in the streets: despair, suicide, and annihilation living in the austerity vacuum of a bloated world of wires.

Maybe Yeats wrote his poem The Second Coming for our century:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
   The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

1. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The Uprising. (Semiotext(e), 2012)
2. Jennifer Karns Alexander. The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Kindle Locations 29-32). Kindle Edition
3. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (Kindle Locations 214-216). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

 

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 4.2)

The problem of interpretation arises because there are empirical and theoretical grounds for holding that some phenomenology is “dark”.
– David Roden,  Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In section 4.2 he will introduce us to the notion that not all phenomenology deals with the pure world of surfaces and light. There is a dark side, or should we say ‘A Dark Tale of Phenomenology’. It will be a tale of twined realms: one of perception, and one of time. It will be a tale in which we will never be sure whether what is alien and posthuman can ever be known or shared by our own mental states, or that we will even be able to control or forecast what the posthuman is or could be. We will be in the dark with that which is alien and alienating.

David Roden will give us a beginning to our tale: “Let’s call a feature of experience “dark” if it confers no explicit or implicit understanding of its nature on the experiencer (Roden, KL 1961)”.1 Unlike the phenomenology of Husserl or even Heidegger in which the surface detail that we can intuit and see within the realm of appearance and presence, dark phenomenology would deal with that which cannot directly be seen, touched, felt, smelled, etc., yet affects us and influences our dispositions, feelings, or actions in indirect and strange ways that we cannot describe with any precision. Our access to this dark side would be by indirect ways, much like scientist who uncover the truth of dark energy and dark matter which make up 99% of our universe and yet we never have direct access to such things except through a combination of mathematical theorems and instruments that measure aspects of these unknown unknowns indirectly through experimentation and analyses.

Reading Roden’s surmises about color theory, and of how there are millions of shadings of color that we cannot intuit or describe from a firs-person-singular perspective because we do not have access or it is a form of loss or neglect reminded my of what many in the neurosciences are suspecting. As I suggested from Bakker’s BBT theory in a previous post the brain only ever gives us the information we need to deal with the things evolution and survival have adapted us too in our understanding or ‘intuiting’ of the environment we are embedded within. Yet, as Roden is suggesting there is an amazing realm of experience we never have direct access to, and that in fact we are blind too not because we cannot intuit it, but because the brain only offers our ‘first-person’ of subjective self or temporary agency certain well-defined and filtered pieces of the puzzle. It filters out the rest accept as Roden said previously, there are times when we are affected by things we cannot perceive but are part of reality. Phenomenology is unable to discuss such things because it is not science, it lacks both the conceptual and instrumental technology to graze even a percent of this unknown or blind territory surrounding us. Philosophers like to talk of chaos, etc. When in fact it is a sea of information that the brain analyses at every moment, but delivers to us packaged in byte size representations that we can handle as its evolutionary agents of choice.

(A personal aside: I must admit I wish David would have sunk the philosophy for neuroscience and hard-sciences rather than wasting time with the philosophical community. It always seems reading such works that one must spend an exorbitant amount of time clarifying concepts, ideas, notions for other professional philosophers who will probably reject what your saying anyway. To me science is answering these sorts of questions in terms that leave the poor phenomenological philosopher in a quandary. Maybe its part of the academic game. I’ve never been sure. Yet, as we will see David himself will make much the same gesture later on.)

Either way as I read dark phenomenology is actually trying to deal not with appearance but with what Kant used to call the ‘noumenal’ realm. Which was closed off from philosophical speculation two-hundred years ago as something that could never be described or known. Yet, both philosophy and the sciences have been describing aspects of it ever since and doing it by indirect means without ever name it that. It’s as if we’ve closed our selves off from the truth of our own blindness, and told ourselves we’re not blind.

As Roden will affirm of all these representationalist philosophers in discussing the possibility that time may have a dark side: “For representationalist philosophers of mind who believe that the mind is an engine for forming and transforming mental representations there is good reason to be sceptical about the supposed transcendental role of time” (Rode, KL 2068). Then he will tells us why: “For where a phenomenological ontology transcends the plausible limits of intuition its interpretation would have to be arbitrated according to its instrumental efficacy, simplicity and explanatory potential as well as its descriptive content” (Roden, KL 2081).

 And as if he heard me he will tell us that phenomenology must provide an incomplete account of those dark structures that are not captured in appearance through other modes of inquiry, saying: “If phenomenology is incompletely characterized by the discipline of phenomenology, though, it seems proper that methods of enquiry such as those employed by cognitive scientists, neuroscientists and cognitive modellers should take up the interpretative slack. If phenomenologists want to understand what they are talking about , they should apply the natural attitude to their own discipline. (Roden, 2120)”

And, of course most practicing scientists in these fields would tell Roden and the others: Why don’t you just give it up and join us? Maybe philosophy is not suited to describe or even begin to analyze what we’re discovering, maybe you would be better off closing down philosophy of mind and becoming scientists.” But of course we know what these philosophers would probably say to that. Don’t we. 

Ultimately after surveying phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger and others Roden will come to the conclusion:

Dark phenomenology undermines the transcendental anthropologies of Heidegger and Husserl because it deprives them of the ability to distinguish transcendental conditions of possibility such as Dasein or Husserl’s temporal subject (which are not things in the world) from the manifestation of things that they make possible. They are deconstructed insofar as they become unable to interpret the formal structures with which they understand the fundamental conditions of possibility for worlds or things. … As bruited, this failure of transcendentalism is crucial for our understanding of SP. If there is no a priori theory of temporality, there is no a priori theory of worlds and we cannot appeal to phenomenology to exclude the possibility that posthuman modes of being could be structurally unlike our own in ways that we cannot currently comprehend. (Roden, KL 2194 – 2206)

 What we’re left with is an open and indescribable realm of possibility that is anyone’s guess. As he will sum it up there is no reason to be bound by a transcendental or anthropological posthumanism, instead SP will have no truck with constraints on the open-endedness of posthumanism (” This is not to say, of course, that there are no constraints on PPS”):

Posthuman minds may or may not be weirder than we can know. We cannot preclude maximum weirdness prior to their appearance. But what do we mean by such an advent? Given the extreme space of possible variation opened up by the collapse of the anthropological boundary, it seems that we can make few substantive assumptions about what posthumans would have to be like.  (Roden, 2378)

In the next post Roden takes up the formal analysis rather than an a priori or substantive account of posthuman life, suggesting that we will not be able to describe the posthuman till we see in in the wild. We will follow him into the wild.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

 

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 2)

In my last post on David Roden’s new book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human I introduced his basic notion of Speculative Posthumanism (SP) in which he claimed that for “SP … there could be posthumans. It does not imply that posthumans would be better than humans or even that their lives would be compared from a single moral perspective.” The basic motif is that his account is not a normative or moral ordering of what posthuman is, but rather an account of what it contains. 

In chapter one he provides a few further distinctions to set the stage of his work. First he will set his form of speculative posthumanism against the those like Neil Badmington and Katherine Hayles who enact a ‘critical posthumanism’ in the tradition of the linguistic turn or Derridean deconstruction of the humanist traditions of subjectivity, etc.. Their basic attack is against the metaphysics of presence that would allow for the upload/download of personality into clones or robots in some future scenario. Once can see in Richard K. Morgan’s science fictionalization (see Altered Carbon) of humans who can download their informatics knowledge, personality, etc. into specialized hardware that allows retrieval for alternative resleeving into either a clone or synthetic organism (i.e., a future rebirthing process in which the personality and identity of the dead can continually be uploaded into new systems, clones, symbiotic life-forms to continue their eternal voyage).  Hans Moravec one of the father’s of robotics would in Mind’s Children be the progenitor of such download/upload concepts that would lead him eventually to sponsor transhumanism, which as Roden will tell us is a normative claim that offers a future full of promise and immortality. Such luminaries as Frank J. Tipler in The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead would bring scientific credence to such ideas as the Anthropic Principle, which John D. Barrow and he collaborated on that stipulates: “Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, will never die out.”

Nick Bostrom following such reasoning would in his book Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy supply an added feature set to those early theories. Bostrom showed how there are problems in various different areas of inquiry (including in cosmology, philosophy, evolution theory, game theory, and quantum physics) that involve a common set of issues related to the handling of indexical information. He argued that a theory of anthropics is needed to deal with these. He introduced the Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) and the Self-Indication Assumption (SIA) and showed how they lead to different conclusions in a number of cases. He pointed out that each is affected by paradoxes or counterintuitive implications in certain thought experiments (the SSA in e.g. the Doomsday argument; the SIA in the Presumptuous Philosopher thought experiment). He suggested that a way forward may involve extending SSA into the Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSA), which replaces “observers” in the SSA definition by “observer-moments”. This could allow for the reference class to be relativized (and he derived an expression for this in the “observation equation”). (see Nick Bostrom)

Bostrom would go on from there and in 1998 co-found (with David Pearce) the World Transhumanist Association (which has since changed its name to Humanity+). In 2004, he co-founded (with James Hughes) the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. In 2005 he was appointed Director of the newly created Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford. Bostrom is the 2009 recipient of the Eugene R. Gannon Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement and was named in Foreign Policy’s 2009 list of top global thinkers “for accepting no limits on human potential.” (see Bostrom)

Bostrom’s Humanity+ is based on normative claims about the future of humanity and its enhancement, and as Roden will tell us transhumanism is an “ethical claim to the effect that technological enhancement of human capacities is a desirable aim” (Roden, 250).1 In contradistinction to any political or ethical agenda (SP) or speculative posthumanism which is the subject of Roden’s book “is not a normative claim about how the world ought to be but a metaphysical claim about what it could contain” (Roden, 251). Both critical posthumanism and transhumanism in Roden’s sense of the term are failures of imagination and philosophical vision, while SP on the other hand is concerned with both current and future humans, whose technological activities might bring them into being (Roden, KL 257). So in this sense Roden is more concerned with the activities and technologies of current and future humans, and how in their interventions they might bring about the posthuman as effect of those interventions and technologies.

In Bostrom’s latest work Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies he spins the normative scenario by following the trail of machine life. If machine brains one day come to surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become very powerful. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on us humans than on the gorillas themselves, so the fate of our species then would come to depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. But we have one advantage: we get to make the first move. Will it be possible to construct a seed AI or otherwise to engineer initial conditions so as to make an intelligence explosion survivable? How could one achieve a controlled detonation? In my own sense of the word: we want be able to control it. Just a study of past technology shows the truth of that: out of the bag it will have its own way with or without us. The notion that we could apply filters or rules to regulate an inhuman or superintelligent species seems quite erroneous when we haven’t even been able to control our own species through normative pressure. The various religions of our diverse cultures are examples of failed normative pressure. Even now secular norms are beginning to fall into abeyance as enlightenment ideology like other normative practices is in the midst of a dark critique.

In pursuit of this Roden will work through the major aspects of the humanist traditions, teasing out the moral, epistemic, and ontic/ontological issues and concerns relating to those traditions before moving on to his specific arguments for a speculative posthumanism.  I’ll not go into details over most of these basic surveys and historical critiques, but will just highlight the basic notions relevant to his argument.

1. Humanists believe in the exceptionalism of humans as distinct and separate from non-human species. Most of this will come out of the Christian humanist tradition in which man is superior to animals, etc. This tradition is based in a since of either ‘freedom’ (Satre, atheistic humanism) or ‘lack’ (Pico della Mirandola). There will also be nuances of this human-centric vision or anthropocentric path depending stemming from Descartes to Kant and beyond, each with its own nuanced flavor of the human/non-human divide.
2. Transhumanism offers another take, one that will combine medical, technological, pharmaceutical enhancements to make humans better. As Roden will surmise, transhumanism is just Human 1.0 to 2.0 and their descendents may still value the concepts of autonomy, sociability and artistic expression. They will just be much better at being rational , sensitive and expressive – better at being human. (Roden, KL 403-405)
3. Yet, not all is rosy for transhumanists, some fear the conceptual leaps of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As Roden tells us Bostrom surmises that “the advent of artificial super-intelligence might render the intellectual efforts of biological thinkers irrelevant in the face of dizzying acceleration in machinic intelligence” (Roden KL 426).
4. Another key issue between transhumanists and SP is the notion of functionalism, or the concept that the mind and its capacities or states is independent of the brain and could be grafted onto other types of hardware, etc. Transhumanist hope for a human like mind that could be transplanted into human-like systems (the more general formulation is key for transhumanist aspirations for uploaded immortality because it is conceivable that the functional structure by virtue of which brains exhibit mentality is at a much lower level than that of individual mental states KL 476), while SP sees this as possible wishful thinking in which thought it might become possible nothing precludes the mind being placed in totally non-human forms.

Next he will offer four basic variations of posthumanism: SP, Critical Posthumanism, Speculative realism, and Philosophical naturalism. Each will decenter the human from its exceptional status and place it squarely on a flat footing with its non-human planetary and cosmic neighbors:

Speculative posthumanism is situated within the discourse of what many term ‘the singularity’ in which at some point in the future some technological intervention will eventually produce a posthuman life form that diverges from present humanity. Whether this is advisable or not it will eventually happen. Yet, how it will take effect is open rather than something known. And it may or may not coincide with such ethical claims of transhumanism or other normative systems. In fact even for SP there is a need for some form of ethical stance that Roden tells us will be clarified in later chapters.

Critical posthumanism is centered on the philosophical discourse at the juncture of humanist and posthumanist thinking, and is an outgrowth of the poststructural and deconstructive project of Jaques Derrida and others, like Foucault etc. in their pursuit to displace the human centric vision of philosophy, etc. This form of posthumanism is more strictly literary and philosophical, and even academic that the others.

Speculative realism Roden tells us will argue against the critical posthumanists and deconstructive project and its stance on decentering subjectivity, saying  “that to undo anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism we must shift philosophical concern away from subjectivity (or the deconstruction of the same) towards the cosmic throng of nonhuman things (“ the great outdoors”)” (Roden, KL 730). SR is a heated topic among younger philosophers dealing with even the notion of whether speculative realism is even a worthy umbrella term for many of the philosophers involved. (see Speculative Realism)

Philosophical naturalism is the odd-man out, in the fact that it’s not centered on posthuman discourse per se, but rather in the “truth-generating practices of science rather than to philosophical anthropology to warrant claims about the world’s metaphysical structure” (Roden, KL 753). Yet, it is the dominative discourse for most practicing scientists, and functionalism being one of the naturalist mainstays that all posthumanisms must deal with at one time or another. 

I decided to break this down into several posts rather than to try to review it all in one long post. Chapter one set the tone of the various types of posthumanism, the next chapter will delve deeper into the perimeters and details of the “critical posthumanist” discourse. I’ll turn to that next…

Visit David Roden’s blog, Enemy Industry which is always informed and worth pondering.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

David Roden on Posthuman Life

 There evolved at length a very different kind of complex organism, in which material contact of parts was not necessary either to coordination of behaviour or unity of consciousness. . . .
—OLAF STAPLEDON, First and Last Men

When Stapledon wrote that book he was thinking of Martians, but in our time one might think he was studying the strangeness of what our posthuman progeny may evolve into.  In Last and First Men Stapledon presents a version of the future history of our species, reviewed by one of our descendants as stellar catastrophe is bringing our solar system to an end. Humanity rises and falls through a succession of mental and physical transformations, regenerating after natural and artificial disasters and emerging in the end into a polymorphous group intelligence, a telepathically linked community of ten million minds spanning the orbits of the outer planets and breaking the bounds of individual consciousness, yet still incapable of more than “a fledgling’s knowledge” of the whole.1

Modern humans (Homo sapiens or Homo sapiens sapiens) are the only extant members of the hominin clade, a branch of great apes characterized by erect posture and bipedal locomotion; manual dexterity and increased tool use; and a general trend toward larger, more complex brains and societies. We evolved according to Darwinian theory from early hominids, such as the australopithecines whose brains and anatomy in many ways more similar to non-human apes, are less often thought of or referred to as “human” than hominids of the genus Homo some of whom used fire, occupied much of Eurasia, and gave rise to anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa about 200,000 years ago where they began to exhibit evidence of behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago and migrated out in successive waves to occupy all but the smallest, driest, and coldest lands. (see Human)

You begin to see a pattern that evolution moves through various changes and transformations. Yet, there is no end point, no progression, not teleological goal to it all. Instead evolutionary theory – and, more explicitly its modern synthesis, connected natural selection, mutation theory, and Mendelian inheritance into a unified theory that applied generally to any branch of biology. One thing that sticks out in this is that evolution deals with organic evolution. The modern synthesis doesn’t include other types of evolvement that might portend what the posthuman descendants of humans might become. If we follow the logic of evolutionary theory as it exists we could at best extrapolate only the continued organic evolution of humans or their eventual extinction. We know that extinction is a possibility since 99% of the species that have ever existed on earth are now extinct. Something will eventually replace us. But what that ‘something’ might be is open to question, an open ended speculative possibility rather than something a scientist could actually pin down and point to with confidence.

 

This is the basic premise of Dr. David Roden’s new work, Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. We are living in a technological era in which a convergence of NBIC technologies (an acronym for Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and Cognitive science), as well as certain well supported positions in cognitive science, biological theory and general metaphysics imply that a posthuman succession is possible in principle, even if the technological means for achieving it remain speculative (Roden, KL 157). Roden will term his version of this as “speculative posthumanism”:

Throughout this work I refer to the philosophical claim that such successors are possible as “speculative posthumanism ” (SP ) and distinguish it from positions which are commonly conflated with SP, like transhumanism. SP claims that there could be posthumans. It does not imply that posthumans would be better than humans or even that their lives would be compared from a single moral perspective.2

Roden will develop notions of “Critical Posthumanism” — which seeks to “deconstruct” the philosophical centrality of the human subject in epistemology, ethics and politics; and, Transhumanism — which proposes the technical enhancement of humans and their capacities. Yet, as Roden admits before we begin to speak of the posthuman we need to have some inkling of exactly what we mean by ‘human’: any philosophical theory of posthumanism owes us an account of what it means to be human such that it is conceivable that there could be nonhuman successors to humans (Roden, KL 174).

One thought that Roden brings out is the notion of subjectivity:

Some philosophers claim that there are features of human moral life and human subjectivity that are not just local to certain gregarious primates but are necessary conditions of agency and subjectivity everywhere. This “transcendental approach” to philosophy does not imply that posthumans are impossible but that – contrary to expectations – they might not be all that different from us. Thus a theory of posthumanity should consider both empirical and transcendental constraints on posthuman possibility. (Roden, KL 180)

Yet, such premises of an anti-intentional or non-intentional materialism as stem from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, and Nick Land would opt that we need no theory of subjectivity, that this is a prejudice of the Idealist tradition and dialectics that are in themselves of little worth. Obviously philosophers such as Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Quentin Meillassoux, and Adrian Johnson stand for this whole Idealist tradition in materialism in one form or another. Against the Idealist traditions is a materialism grounded in chaos and composition, in desire: Nick Land’s sense of libidinal materialism begins and ends in ‘desire’ which opposes the notion of lack: instead his is a theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire (Land, 37).3 Unlike many materialisms that start with the concept of Being, or an ontology, Libidinal Materialism begins by acknowledging thermodynamics, chaos, and the pre-ontological dimension of energy: “libidinal materialism accepts only chaos and composition” (43). Being is an effect of composition: “being as an effect of the composition of chaos”:

With the libidinal reformulation of being as composition ‘one acquires degrees of being, one loses that which has being’. The effect of ‘being’ is derivative from process, ‘because we have to be stable in our beliefs… one has a general energetics of compositions… of types, varieties, species, regularities. The power to conserve, transmit, circulate, and enhance compositions, the power that is assimilated in the marking, reserving, and appropriation of compositions, and the power released in the disinhibition, dissipation, and … unleashing of compositions (Land, 44) … [even Freud is a libidinal materialist] in that he does not conceive desire as lack, representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process (Land, 45).

R. Scott Bakker author of the fantasy series The Second Apocalypse is also the theoretician of what he terms Blind Brain Theory (BBT). Very briefly, the theory rests on the observation that out of the vast amount of information processed by the brain every nanosecond, only a meagre trickle makes it through to consciousness; and crucially that includes information about the processing itself. We have virtually no idea of the massive and complex processes churning away in all the unconscious functions that really make things work and the result is that consciousness is not at all what it seems to be. Even what we term subjectivity is but a temporary process and effect of these brain processes and has no stable identity to speak of, but is rather a temporary focal point of consciousness. (see The Last Magic Show)

So to come back to Roden’s statement that some “philosophers claim that there are features of human moral life and human subjectivity that are not just local to certain gregarious primates but are necessary conditions of agency and subjectivity everywhere (Roden, KL 180)”. We can with BBT and Libidinal Materialism, or what might be better termed an anti-intentional philosophy based on non-theophilosophical concepts throw out the need to base our sense of what comes after the human on either ‘agency’ or ‘subjectivity’ as conditions, for both are in fact effects of the brain not substance based entities. So Roden need not worry about such conditions and constraints. And, as he tells us weakly constrained SP suggests that our current technical practice could precipitate a nonhuman world that we cannot yet understand, in which “our” values may have no place (Roden KL 187). Which is this sense that our human epistemologies, ontologies and normative or ethical practices and values cannot tell us anything about what the posthuman might entail: it is all speculative and without qualification.

But if this is true he will ask:

Does this mean that talk of “posthumans” is self-vitiating nonsense ? Does speaking of “weird” worlds or values commit one to a conceptual relativism that is incompatible with the commitment to realism? (Roden, KL 191)

If posthuman talk is not self-vitiating nonsense, the ethical problems it raises are very challenging indeed. If our current technological trajectories might result in the world turning posthuman, how should we view this prospect and respond to it? Should we apply a conservative , precautionary approach to technology that favours “human” values over any possible posthuman ones? Can conservatism be justified under weakly constrained SP and, if not, then what kind of ethical or political alternatives are justifiable? (Roden, 193)

David comes out of the Idealist traditions which I must admit I oppose with the alternate materialist traditions. As he tells us:

As I mentioned, an appreciation of the scope of SP requires that we consider empirically informed speculations about posthumans and also engage with the tradition of transcendental thought that derives from the work of Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. (Rode, KL 200)

These are the questions his book raises and tries to offer tentative answers too:

Table of contents:

Introduction: Churchland’s Centipede
1. Humanism,Transhumanism and Posthumanism
2. A Defence of Pre‐Critical Posthumanism
3. The Edge of the Human
4. Weird Tales: Anthropologically Unbounded Posthumanism
5. The Disconnection Thesis
6. Functional Autonomy and Assemblage Theory
7. New Substantivism: A Theory of Technology
8. The Ethics of Becoming Posthuman.

I’ve only begun reading his new work so will need to hold off and come back to it in a future post. Knowing that his philosophical proclivities bend toward the German Idealist traditions I’m sure I’ll have plenty to argue with, yet it is always interesting to see how the current philosophies are viewing such things as posthumanism. So I looked forward to digging in. So far the book offers so far a clear and energetic, and informative look at the issues involved. After I finish reading it completely I’ll give a more informed summation. Definitely a work to make you think about what may be coming our way at some point in the future if the technologists, scientists, DARPA, and capitalist machine are any sign. Stay tuned… 

David Roden has a blog, Enemy Industry which is always informed and worth pondering.

For others in this series look here.

1. Dyson, George B. (2012-09-04). Darwin Among The Machines (p. 199). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
2. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 165-168). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
3. Nick Land. A Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)

Visions of the Future: Apocalypse or Paradise?

Continuing with a frontal assault of our conceptions of the future in both their negative and positive modes I’d like to continue down the path from previous notes on John Michael Greer’s assessment for America and the world’s prospects (here). He ended his book telling us that Americans need a new vision, a new Dream, one “that doesn’t require promises of limitless material abundance, one that doesn’t depend on the profits of empire or the temporary rush of affluence we got by stripping a continent of its irreplaceable natural resources in a few short centuries“. Yet, he also warned us that “…nothing guarantees that America will find the new vision it needs, just because it happens to need one, and it’s already very late in the day. Those of us who see the potential, and hope to help fill it, have to get a move on“.1

Michio Kaku in his book Physics of the Future will offer what he terms an “insider’s view” of the future. I thought it ironic that he would pull the old trick of insider/outsider that opposes scientific authority to the folk-wisdom of the tribe, and assumes scientific knowledge has some greater privilege and access to the future than that of historians, sociologists, science fiction writer’s, and “futurologists” – who he gently removes from authority and truth, saying in his preface that they are all “outsiders” – “predicting the world without any firsthand knowledge of science itself” as if this placed them in a world of non-knowledge or folk-wisdom that could be left behind, as if they were mere children in a grown-ups world of pure scientific mystery that only the great and powerful “insider”, the scientist as inventor, investigator, explorer of the great mysteries of the universe could reveal.

Yet, in the very next paragraph after dismissing the folk-wisdom of the tribal mind, and bolstering the power of science and scientists he will ironically admit that “it is impossible to predict the future with complete accuracy”, that the best we can do is to “tap into the minds of scientists on the cutting edge of research, who are doing the yeoman’s work of inventing the future”.2 One notices that science is now equated with “invention” of the future, as if the future was a product or commodity that we are building in the factories of knowledge, both material and immaterial that will – as he terms it “revolutionize civilization”. Of course etymologically invention is considered “a finding or discovery,” a noun of action from the past participle stem of invenire to “devise, discover, find”. And as he uses the words “yeoman’s work” for scientists as inventors of the future we will assume the old sense of that as “commoner who cultivates his land”, or an  “attendant in a noble household,” so that these new scientists are seen as laborers of the sciences producing for their masters, or the new nobility of the elite Wall-Street and Corporate Globalist machine.

(I will come back to the notion of the future as Invention in another essay in this series. What is the future? How do we understand this term? Is the future an invention, a discovery, a finding; or, is it rather an acceleration of the future as immanent in our past, a machinic power unfolding, or a power invading us from the future and manipulating our minds to deliver and shape us to its will? Time. What is this temporality? What is causality? Do we shape it or does it shape us? )

So in Kaku we are offered a vision of the future in alignment with the globalist vision of a corporatized future in which scientists are mere yeoman doing the bidding of their masters in inventing a future that they are paying for through the great profit making machine of capitalism. It’s not that his use of differing metaphors and displacements, derision of the outsider and ill-informed or folk-wisdom practices of historians, sociologists, science-fiction writers, and futurologists was in itself a mere ploy; no, its that whether consciously or unknowingly he is setting the stage, which on the surface appears so positive, so amiable, so enlightening and informing for a corporate vision of the future that is already by the virtue of a dismissal of its critics a done deal, a mere effort of unlocking through the power of “devices, inventions, and therapies”. Kaku is above all an affirmer of technologies dream, of science as the all-powerful Apollonian sun-god of enlightened human destiny that will revolutionize civilization.  

I doubt this is the dream that John Michael Greer had in mind when he mentioned that we need a new American Dream. Or is it? For Greer there only the ultimate demise of the last two-hundred years of Fordism or the Industrial Age:

Between the tectonic shifts in geopolitics that will inevitably follow the fall of America’s empire, and the far greater transformations already being set in motion by the imminent end of the industrial age , many of the world’s nations will have to deal with a similar work of revisioning.(Greer, 276)

Yet, this is where Greer leaves it, at a stage of revisioning to come, of dreams to be enacted. He offers no dream himself, only the negative critique of existing dreams of the Fordist era utopias that have failed humanity and are slowly bringing about disaster rather than transformation.

Kaku on the other hand, whose works sell profitably, a man who has the ear of the common reader as well as the corporate profiteers seeks his own version (or theirs?) of the American Dream. Unlike his previous book Visions, which offered his vision of the coming decades; instead, this new one offers a hundred year view of technology and other tensions in our global world that as he tells it ominously “will ultimately determine the fate of humanity”.

I’ll leave it there for this post, and will take up his first book, Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century in my next post, then his Physics of the Future in the third installment. 

1. Greer, John Michael (2014-03-17). Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America . New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2. Michio Kaku. Physics of the Future. (Doubleday, 2012)

Emerson, Neuroscience, & The Book of Nature – On Fate & Freedom

 

The book of Nature is the book of Fate. She turns the gigantic pages, — leaf after leaf, — never returning one.  … The element running through entire nature, which we popularly call Fate, is known to us as limitation. Whatever limits us, we call Fate. … Why should we fear to be crushed by savage elements, we who are made up of the same elements? – Ralph Waldo Emerson: Fate

As one reads and rereads Emerson’s essays, and especially the ones in The Conduct of Life, one gains a deeper appreciation of this man’s dark temperament, and of his tenacity in the face of those who would tyrannize us with superfluous notions of just what necessity and fate truly are.  For Emerson the notion of fate was but one of the forces, not the ruling force of life in this universe. The opposing force for him was freedom. If there are limits, if there are environmental factors that shape and bind us to certain limits and limitations of physical and mental constitution, there is also the opposing notion of mind and intelligence to counter the harsh necessities of life’s circumstances. Yet, the mind is not some separate entity, above it all; this would be illusion, too. No, the mind is very much enmeshed within the web of elements we call the universe, and it is within this very context and rootedness of mind in the processes of the universe that we must approach fate and freedom.

In his poem Fate  (see below) Emerson tells us that “There is a melody born of melody, which melts the world into a sea.” The notion that there are processes born of processes, which fold the world internally into the processes of the brain is at the heart of this. One could say that the production of production, system of system, or feedback loop within feedback loop all work their magic in this sea within:

That you are fair or wise is vain,
Or strong, or rich, or generous;
You must have also the untaught strain
That sheds beauty on the rose.
There is a melody born of melody,
Which melts the world into a sea.
Toil could never compass it,
Art its height could never hit,
It came never out of wit,
But a music music-born
Well may Jove and Juno scorn.
Thy beauty, if it lack the fire
Which drives me mad with sweet desire,
What boots it? what the soldier’s mail,
Unless he conquer and prevail?
What all the goods thy pride which lift,
If thou pine for another’s gift?
Alas! that one is born in blight,
Victim of perpetual slight;—
When thou lookest in his face,
Thy heart saith, Brother! go thy ways!
None shall ask thee what thou doest,
Or care a rush for what thou knowest,
Or listen when thou repliest,
Or remember where thou liest,
Or how thy supper is sodden,—
And another is born
To make the sun forgotten.
Surely he carries a talisman
Under his tongue;
Broad are his shoulders, and strong,
And his eye is scornful,
Threatening, and young.
I hold it of little matter,
Whether your jewel be of pure water,
A rose diamond or a white,—
But whether it dazzle me with light.
I care not how you are drest,
In the coarsest, or in the best,
Nor whether your name is base or brave,
Nor tor the fashion of your behavior,—
But whether you charm me,
Bid my bread feed, and my fire warm me,
And dress up nature in your favor.
One thing is forever good,
That one thing is success,—
Dear to the Eumenides,
And to all the heavenly brood.
Who bides at home, nor looks abroad,
Carries the eagles, and masters the sword.

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Positing Futurity: The Possibilities of Utopology

A true opposite of utopia would be a society that is either completely unplanned or is planned to be deliberately terrifying and awful. Dystopia, typically invoked, is neither of these things; rather, it is a utopia that has gone wrong, or a utopia that functions only for a particular segment of society.1

Fredric Jameson in a provocative essay Utopia as Method, or the Uses of the Future asks us “How can a place be a method?” Most of the time we think of utopia as a place, or a separate non-place in the sense of a secondary world with its own sociocultural milieu. But what if such a place that is no-place formed the dialectical union of opposites we call utopia/dystopia? What if this non-place were the outcome of the failure of the myth of progress? With the failure of modernity and its supposed utopic teleology and the myth of progress we are now within such a non-place, a place between times, a moment of pure difference in which neither the positive nor negative forces hold sway, but the balance between the forces of life and the forces of death vie for our future. As Jameson notes:

As far as space is concerned, the rich are withdrawing ever more urgently into their gated communities and their fortified enclosures; the middle classes are tirelessly engaged in covering the last vestiges of nature with acres of identical development homes; and the poor, pouring in from the former countryside, swell the makeshift outskirts with a population explosion so irrepressible that in a few years none of the ten largest cities on the globe will include the familiar first-world metropolises any longer. (ibid.)

Mike Davis in Planet of Slums situates the utopic/dystopic conclaves within the superstructure of our Megalopolises. He offers us an advanced state of the late-capitalist hyperworld in 3-D vision, where slums like slime molds infiltrate the fabric of our very lives, and even the elite live lives like truant children who have just escaped from the hinterlands of some Lovecraftian nightmare zone leaving the rest of us to cannibal horrors unimagined by science-fiction or gothic troubadours. The cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood. Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first-century urban world squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay. Indeed, the one billion city-dwellers who inhabit postmodern slums might well look back with envy at the ruins of the sturdy mud homes of Catal Hayuk in Anatolia, erected at the very dawn of city life nine thousand years ago.2

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Are Robo Workers taking your job?

It’s getting harder to find people to work on farms in the US – robo-farmers are shifting plants and could soon be picking strawberries in their place…”
Harvey, the robot farmer fixing the US labour shortage (New Scientist)

With Cow-Milking Robots taking over conglomerate farms like Bordens, where even the cows enjoy the new automated systems and seem happier and more contented, one wonders why it took so long. I mean, we don’t need humans anymore for this manual labor now do we? All those people can find other jobs now can’t they?

Derek Thomson tells that “machines and technology have been replacing our jobs for about as long as the concept of a “job” has existed. In the early 1800s, British textile workers called the Luddites launched a series of massive protests against fancy new spinning machines and looms. They had a point. These machines worked better than people worked alone. They did steal jobs. But eventually, these dreaded machines and the rest of the industrial revolution made the vast majority of workers much richer by making us all more productive.” And, now he says: “But since machines are starting to take over not just farm jobs and factory jobs, but also white-collar professions, there’s a spookier question. What happens if machines can do so many jobs that we just run out of work? What if software eats the legal industry? What if robots start doing the work of doctors? What if they start cooking and serving all the food in restaurants? And driving all of our cars? And stocking all of our warehouses? And manning all of our retail floors? Today we can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that robots are really good at repetitive tasks and we’re really good at managing them. But what if artificial intelligence rises to the point that robots are better at managing robots?”

In a recent survey on nbcnews.com they line it up with nine jobs that will slowly replace humans in the near future:  pharmacists, lawyers and paralegals, drivers, astronauts, store clerks, soldiers,  babysitters, rescuers, sportswriters and other reporters. Quite a list don’t you think. Well, yes might finally get some neutral news at a last, huh? And, all those money-grubbing legal fees from bumkin lawyers will now go to feeding the bot. But what about that friendly sixteen year old needing extra case for school lunches and dates: we going to let a metal can take their place? Not I said the cracker.

Andrew McAfee of MIT co-author of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies with Erik Brynjolfsson tells us (see here) the near future holds three basic scenarios for such a takeover: scenario one is that it is going to hit the economy, and it might take a while to work itself out, but in the end we will reach a happy equilibrium; scenario two is that we see successive waves: artificial intelligence, automated driving that will impact people who drive for a living, robotics that will impact manufacturing:  scenario two happens, the problem is a bit worse because it will be difficult for the economy to keep adjusting and for workers to keep retraining; and, scenario three is that we finally transition into this science-fiction economy, where you just don’t need a lot of labor.

That last scenario sounds a lot like Marx’s original option: “Labor equals exploitation: This is the logical prerequisite and historical result of capitalist civilization. From here there is no point of return. Workers have no time for the dignity of labor.” (see Struggle Against Labor) But one wonders: Will there come a day when our progeny the Robots will demand the same?