Long quote from Dale Carrico’s “An Open Letter to Robot Cultists”

“Any child of two can indulge in wish fulfillment fantasizing. It’s not a philosophy. It’s not a movement. And the way you Robot Cultists do it makes you a kind of techno-transcendental New Age cult too hype-notized to notice you are functioning as a crowdsourced cheerleading squad for celebrity CEOs and ramped up gizmo consumerism at a time when the world is literally perishing from extractive- industrial- petrochemical- consumer- indebted- corporate- militarism.

The digital revolution is a lie. Cyberspace isn’t a spirit realm. It belches coal smoke. It is accessed on landfill-destined toxic devices made by wretched wage slaves. It abetted financial fraud and theft at every level of society around the world. Its “openness” and its “freedom” turned out to be targeted marketing harassment, panoptic surveillance, and zero comments.

Rather than grasp this catastrophic fraud, you embrace it more ferociously, you hyperbolize cyberspatial deceptions into a more delusive fantasy still, fancying it will be home to a history shattering perfectly parental God-AI delivering you into the digital garden where your “spirit self” can live forever and “be” anything and “have” everything and “know” it all forever.”

The rest at amor mundi.

Individuality is unnecessary for intelligence

Computers + artificial intelligence + robotics will not lead us where techno-ideology prays it will. We will not have an android like Data, who will be able to do all the things that we can, only better. To manage to do all that we can, such a technological entity would need to be as versatile, robust, and massively parallel as we are. This might be achieved via incredible inefficiency, or via some form of biological route. The former disqualifies itself from the running, if we are to require that this is to be a project undertaken on a large scale, to augment our reality via an alternative, artificial intelligent life-form of our own making which would be an addition to our existence. The latter is basically growing another, harder, better, faster, stronger version of ourselves, and falls under trans-/post-humanism.

The alternative is to allow technology to do what it does best: allow tools to be excellent at what it is that they are for. This gives specificity, where all the energy and computation is given focus. Let these tools do these tasks amazingly well and without distraction, and then we have a start. Admittedly, this sounds like the Adam Smith view of technology as mass-produced, mono-function widgets. Smart-phones seem to be a counter-example to my throw-back to the industrial revolution. Continue reading

Automation, labour law, and markets

… the presence of slave labor seems generally to inhibit the use of machinery and the presence of expensive labor to accelerate it.

Robert L. Heilbroner, “Do Machines Make History”

Reading the above comment, I was reminded of an article from last year’s Economist about a possible link between what they call ‘rigid labour laws’ and automation, “France and automation: Driverless, workless”. The article attempts to make a connection between increasing automation, high-tech services, and the ‘rigid’ labour laws of France. A similar argument has been made regarding Japan’s embrace of robotics and its narrow, restrictive immigration policies. I have seen it everywhere from Gizmodo to Martin Jacques‘s When China Rules the World, and it basically goes racism = robotics, parallel to the Economist‘s socialism → driverless trains.

If we consider ‘slave labour’ in Heilbroner with this in mind, do we see that low-paying, service sector jobs could be a clear stimulus to technological innovation, if labour is restricted in a manner that makes it expensive (via such horrors as fair pay, more time off, childcare, healthcare, etc.)?The Economist, true to its contradictory, conflicted ideals of a liberal-not-libertarian market makes a stab at snide dismissal of such a notion:

France excels at high-tech services: credit-card operated petrol stations, touch-screen fast-food counters, automatic car-washing. Two years ago, McDonalds pioneered the use of touch-screen, credit-card-based ordering in its French fast-food restaurants. Eléphant Bleu, a self-service high-pressure car-washing chain, has 472 outlets in France, and is expanding. All this in a country where the labour code runs to over 3,300 pages, an employer pays an average of 39% in payroll taxes, and unemployment is at 10%. Spot the connection.

Ultimately, however, this article has no clue what to think here. Technical innovation adds up to economic development, so should they encourage these labour laws? Is innovation a good thing, if it is connected with expansion of the state? The Economist doesn’t has no clue where it stands, set adrift as it is by its nebulous laissez-whatever ideals. It doesn’t know what it wants from society, and so it cannot engage with what technological innovation actually amounts to. The analysis of markets, and the expectations of how they should operate offers few clues in the matter.

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Technology and A.I. in “2001: A Space Odyssey”

At the start, the very appearance of the monolith creates a disturbance within the hominid family. The microcosm of wider society is this group, so we are to assume, and the immediate implication is thus that these are our primitive ancestors. We are presented with as close to that fictional-mythical state of nature as it might be possible to be, a picture by yet another artist, but shaved of Rousseau’s sentimentality. We are confronted by its artistic subversion of that ideal state, ground down to its base honesty. The monolith appears, and that dissonant, malevolent chorus crescendos. The break with the past is irrevocable, and the disruption will never be undone outside of acts of the imagination. At the same time as science and technology are born, with this moment of bone wielded as tool, as weapon, is born all the myriad problems of application.  Continue reading

Social awkwardness of the singularity, and are hipsters post-scarcity?

In a list of reasons to live as long as possible, one given is that “your loved ones and children don’t deserve to see you perish.” Ok, yeah, so that’s one possible reason for us to live as long as possible. Presumably with some sort of ideal body age. But, if we start living like that, and if we continue to have children and relationships, and the post-scarcity society means that we are able to focus on creativity rather than drudgery… well, I can see the sort of society this would lead to. There might be mindless, soulless hedonism, but it might also give us the chance to learn from each other for longer (hopefully, assuming that small-minds and obtuseness are also made obsolete – good luck with that).
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What can space opera tell us about the future?

The Beyonders in The Algebraist of Iain M. Banks, the Ousters in The Hyperion Cantos of Dan Simmons, the Slashers in Century Rain: all are from 90’s – 00’s SF, and all seem to manifest some sort of dissatisfaction with the inability to write through the time-wall. This is a recasting of a phrase found in Ernst Jünger‘s Eumeswil:

There can be no doubt that gods have appeared, not only in ancient times but even late in history; they feasted with us and fought at our sides. But what good is the splendor of bygone banquets to a starving man? What good is the clinking of gold that a poor man hears through the wall of time? The gods must be called.

I take this to imply that there is sometimes a point in our speculations that it is difficult, to the point of perceived impossibility, to proceed outwards into a realm of new possibility that we have convinced ourselves exists. We hit a bottleneck of time and thought. Continue reading

The singularity will not make you a better person

Aside

One of Ray Kurzweil‘s more provocative theses from The Singularity is Near is that the singularity will clean up all the environmental mess from the past centuries, those slagheaps of our reliance on fossil fuels and dirty industry.  Postscarcity means that the sins of the father will no longer be visited on the sons, daughters, cousins, etc. As much as I can understand that Kurzweil is not coming from a position of optimism, but rather what he interprets as a logical inevitability of technological development (albeit with the Law of Increasing Returns taking a very questionable central role), I find it on some levels offensive. A little game I like to play with myself when bored is “Reasons the Singularity is will never happen” (my current favourite is ‘Athlone‘…), but when not being glib and doubting Kurzweil’s technoeschatology, I have other genuine difficulties.

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