Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Losing Our Addiction

Mark Zuckerberg in 2009: Facebook privacy is central - BBC News (21 March 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

The endgame of social media is becoming clear. The exciting 2000s and early 2010s were the heyday of the Creative Commons. A beautiful ideal established in 2001, the Creative Commons refers to the free-sharing of information, the democratization of data.

The Commons made way for cyber-variants of political ideologies, which attempted to describe and defend new virtual freedoms. Social media seemed to offer soapboxes and development venues for tech-savvy individuals. Some of these individuals became hacktivists and citizen journalists, who used search engines and video platforms like Youtube to expose the power structures of the world. They fell for the tempting promise that the little person could finally be empowered, independent, and free. Having identified themselves in the system as potential leaders, they are now being censored. Each new liberty in this testing ground has led social media users ever deeper into a matrix of control.

It is evident that early Millennial spaces of free discussion, sexual libertinism, and politically liberated behaviour, alongside honeypot offers of cheap hardware and open source toolkits, were always controlled environments. Think of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google and even the chans! - as Petri dishes and you start to get a better idea of what has been happening. As I stated in an earlier post about the Dark Web, anonymity is a myth. These free spaces were merely opportunities to gather vast amounts of human data for future AI systems, dedicated to social control and surveillance.

"Sean Parker, 38, claims social media sites like Facebook are 'exploiting vulnerabilities in human psychology' and said social media pioneers like himself 'understood this consciously and we did it anyway.'": Facebook founder warns of social media addiction (10 November 2017). Video Source: Youtube/ABC News.

Last year, VICE talked to Google ex-designer and ethicist Tristan Harris. Harris confirmed that social media platforms were deliberately designed to addict their users and employed tricks used in casinos, such as intermittent variable rewards. Social media platforms use social reciprocity, social approval, fear of missing out, and fear of social exclusion to trick users into sharing their personal data and their emotional sensibilities around that data. It's all done in a climate of fake positivity, driven by an undercurrent of addiction, social threat, and fear.

Social media platforms also employ principles of deception because they only offer users certain courses of behaviour, with few considering the choices which were not made available. You can read Harris's essays on this topic here.

Facebook's ex-president Sean Parker confirmed the founding principles of the platform in a series of interviews last year; from Slate:
"The thought process was all about, 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?', he said. 'And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever, and that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social validation feedback loop. … You’re exploiting a vulnerabilty in human psychology.'"
Parker's revelations mean that in the 2009 interview at the top of this post, Mark Zuckerberg was outright lying to the BBC about Facebook's endgame. Today's Silicon Valley marketing is reminiscent of cigarette ads from the 1950s through the 1980s, which deliberately misled consumers about the terrible health effects of smoking.

Why our screens make us less happy | Adam Alter (1 August 2017). Video Source: Youtube/TED2017.

Some Gen X and Y founders of social media admit that they created this sick environment, and have expressed regrets. VICE:
"We asked [Facebook] Like button co-creator Justin Rosenstein what he thinks is the most insidious form of social media manipulation, and according to him it's the humble push notification. ... 'The vast majority of push notifications are just distractions that pull us out of the moment,' he says. 'They get us hooked on pulling our phones out and getting lost in a quick hit of information that could wait for later, or doesn't matter at all.' ... But according to author Adam Alter, change will only come from the bottom up. He claims the social media business model, built around the needs of marketing agencies instead of lives, are already far too entrenched and profitable for self-governing.
This is why the social media environment embodies the shadow side of the collective unconscious: ego, social comparison, and self esteem increase. These platforms were set up to hot wire our brain chemistry in relation to safety, security, and community.

Ironically, in environments deliberately conceived to bring forward primal instincts regarding belonging, the expression of those instincts is and will be the excuse to launch crackdowns.

Again, the endgame is to create an AI framework that can manage those instincts in cyber-enabled social and microchipped work settings, where community - in the future - will be strictly defined. You can read a February 2018 report from Oxford, The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence: Forecasting, Prevention, and Mitigation, here. The authors write:
"The use of AI to automate tasks involved in surveillance (e.g. analysing mass-collected data), persuasion (e.g. creating targeted propaganda), and deception (e.g. manipulating videos) may expand threats associated with privacy invasion and social manipulation. We also expect novel attacks that take advantage of an improved capacity to analyse human behaviors, moods, and beliefs on the basis of available data. These concerns are most significant in the context of authoritarian states, but may also undermine the ability of democracies to sustain truthful public debates."
I have seen a lot free-thinkers online expecting that the great oppression will come from the state. They aren't paying attention!

Schmidt's comment on nation-states starts at 11:31: Google Cloud Next 2017- Eric Schmidt: "Get on the Cloud....Now" (8 March 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

At this point, states and governments are scrambling to play catch-up. They are ramping up surveillance because if they do not, they will lose their traditional authority over the course of the 21st century to super-corporations. For all their customer-friendly rhetoric, corporations have a final understanding of legality and internal operations that is anti-democratic. Anarchists and libertarians will miss the state when laws are replaced with algorithms. In March 2017, Eric Schmidt extolled the virtues of big data and Google Cloud:
"Once you have the data, you have an opportunity for real transformation. I think that big data is so powerful that nation-states will fight over how much data matters. That he who has the data, that can do the analytics, and the algorithms ... at the scale we're talking about, will provide huge nation-state benefits in terms of global companies and benefits for their citizens."
Notice how the tech corporation emerges in this narrative as a powerful player on the world stage, suddenly encroaching upon the preserves of the old geopolitical order. Schmidt was Executive Chairman of Google and its parent company, Alphabet, until 2017. He is worth over USD 11.1 billion dollars. He has stated his agenda plainly:
"The problem is, everyone can understand something, but they cannot collectively act is ... sort of the core governance problem. So you have to come up with ways for them to be able to get the resources and so forth. Now, if we were in a huge war with a major adversary, I’m sure the rules would be different, but right now the planning procedures and so forth in my view take too long. ... This is the moment where the government collectively with private industry needs to say these technologies are important. ... So whether it’s from a position of fear, where people are afraid of something, or whether it’s a position of leadership, I don’t care how we get there."

Gizmodo (6 March 2018): "Google’s pilot project with the Defense Department’s Project Maven, an effort to identify objects in drone footage, has not been previously reported, but it was discussed widely within the company last week when information about the project was shared on an internal mailing list, according to sources who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the project." Image Source: Gizmodo.

The tech companies' control of personal information and related development of AI are being channeled into militaristic applications. On 6 March 2018, Gizmodo reported that Google is helping the US military build AI for drones in Project Maven. It is only a matter of time before corporations acquire their own military capabilities, at which point they may potentially challenge governments. And then the endgame will really come to light.

Project Maven: The Pentagon’s New Artificial Intelligence Has Been Hunting Terrorists for Months (30 March 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

You can follow the bleed-over from search engines and social media to smart killer drones and robots in a 30 March 2018 report from Defense One, brought to you by Northrop Grumman: Artificial Intelligence: The Pros, Cons, and What To Really Fear. In this new landscape, China is dubbed the "Saudia Arabia of data"; and as others have said, data is the new oil. From Defense One:
"What the U.S. military is turning to next: a program called Data to Decision, or D2D. Its mission: 'fuse text, video, and virtually every potential source of data or information together through AI,' Defense One's Patrick Tucker reported in February [2018]. The headline-grabbing goal: to get these syncronized systems to where it can 'shoot someone in the face at 200 kilometers.'"
A more 'peaceful' and likely path involves corporations not challenging nation-states outright for dominance, and instead agreeing to cooperate. On the path to tech-political integration, CEOs will run for political office, and the state will become a corporation, run by an oligarchy. There has been huge resistance to Donald Trump's election in liberal quarters. But what liberals should be worrying about is the precedent he has already set, rather than his immediate impact or legacy.

Trump paved the way for a liberal corporate CEO to become President. If Trump, with his personal fortune of USD $3.1 billion, could hijack the democratic electoral process, what do you think Schmidt could do with his USD $11.1 billion? Or Zuckerberg with his USD $62.9 billion?

Given that the Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly liberal, an oligarch tech President would espouse liberal values and social inclusion, yet have different corporate intentions when it comes to mobilizing AI inside the state infrastructure and via the military. Such a figure may genuinely believe in liberal values, yet see no contradiction as civil rights are overturned, redefined, and violated by technocratic evolution.

Part of this is due to legal organizational practices: businesses and their leaders are not inherently negative. However, they are not run by democratic principles.

The idea of running for President has plainly crossed Zuckerberg's mind. If voters continue to be distracted by outmoded 18th-20th century ideologies, polarized rhetoric, identity politics, and cults of personality, they will see Zuckerberg (or a similar character) as a friendly candidate and misunderstand the terrifying issues which confront them. Such a figure as President would use positive language, but would perniciously combine the power of AI and population data exploitation with the legal and militaristic powers of the state.

AI, forged during the now-ending free years of global social media, is the key to corporations' emerging dominance. But don't imagine that tech leaders have their most potent asset under control. In 2017, Facebook engineers shut down two of their robots when the machines spontaneously created a language and began talking to each other. It was not a language that the engineers understood or could decipher.

Eric Schmidt has similarly acknowledged that Google's engineers do not know exactly how machine learning works. It moves beyond human understanding:
"The first observation is that this stuff is still essentially magic. The scientists that are working on it cannot for example explain certain failure modes. We don’t really exactly understand how the learning occurs. There’s evidence for example that the face recognition and image recognition is using slightly different parameters than what we do as humans. That’s an example. So it’s a slightly different animal if you will."

Eric Schmidt Keynote Address - Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit (6 November 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Hemant Taneja, a managing director at General Catalyst, has written a book about the need to rein in large corporations entitled, Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future. Released on 27 March 2018, the book describes how enormous corporate monopolies used to be broken up geographically in America under antitrust laws. In a 7 April 2018 interview, Taneja told Fast Company:
"When you used to break up companies in the Sherman Anti-Trust era, these were physically sprawled companies and you broke them up geographically and regulated their markets. But you can’t break up network-effect businesses geographically. So you have to look at it through the motif of data analytics and eyeballs. These sort of modern platforms, it’s not about geographic terms.

When [Amazon] keeps buying … They keep picking up these applications that are on top of their platform AWS. At some point, they understand which ones are wanted by consumers, and they’re using that data to just keep consolidating. That’s what we have to prevent.

If [Amazon] can understand there’s a huge market for home security stuff, and [they] can buy a Ring, and have a subscription around that, and dump it into Prime–it will be big. And now all of sudden they’ve taken another big chunk of the market and aggregated it into this Prime subscription, right? Well, at some point, all of our commerce is getting done through this company.

The problem with these monopolies is that most of what they give to consumers is free. To me, antitrust needs to get pointed toward developer ecosystems and innovation. If you think about a company like Amazon, they have the eyeballs, they have the algorithms, they have the data.

Where does the monopolistic aspirations of these platforms get regulated or where do they stop? That has to get answered. And it has to because theoretically you’re only going to have one big company per industry that’s going to do everything for you. You don’t have the free market."
Taneja believes that small, lean companies can compete with the giants using AI. But how many start-ups does it take to bring down one Goliath? It is a race against time. Taneja's only other solution was for the state to use AI to regulate huge corporations before they are so powerful that they cannot be controlled. On inquiring, he found that the US Department of Commerce does not have an AI office for corporate oversight.

Meanwhile, governments are rushing to implement AI to dominate the same vulnerable civilian-consumer populations. What is to stop governments from joining forces with the big tech companies instead of regulating them? As tech behemoths branch rapidly into new areas, from tech, retail, and marketing - to media, services, and industry - what is left? Food and agriculture, public safety, infrastructure, transport, finance, trade, education, medicine, and government. Do you really want an AI-driven Amazon controlling all those sectors? Or Facebook? Or Google? And not just in the United States, but in several countries?

The alt-news view: Fake Fake News Is a Danger to Our Fake Democracy (6 April 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

If you think a free Internet can save us, think again. Consider how well the alt-media are doing, and how easy it is to shut them down when they use corporate social media platforms. Worse, look at how complacent the public have been as thousands of citizen journalists have recently had their work erased from the Internet under the banner of 'conspiracy theories,' 'terrorism,' and 'fake news.' While it is true that the information on Youtube, for example, can be completely crazy or racist, some of it reflects an evolving critical discourse against dominant narratives. It is easy to use political rhetoric to convince consumers that it is all right to destroy these creators and their work because they are politically and intellectually suspect, so that only approved ideas are allowed to circulate.

IN-SHADOW - A Modern Odyssey - Animated Short Film (13 November 2017) © Lubomir Arsov 2017. Video Source: Youtube. (Hat tip: The Last American Vagabond.)

Is there a solution? A 2017 animated film by Lubomir Arsov displays our status quo. This outcome already proves what the social media experiment was intended to do, roughly ten to fifteen years after it was introduced. From the promo: "Dare to embark on a visionary journey through the fragmented unconscious of the West, and with courage, face the Shadow." Arsov quotes Carl Jung:
"The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge."
The solution, Arsov, implies, is that we must reexamine our attitudes toward the human condition. Our perception of our tools and technology will change accordingly. You cannot enslave people who are fully conscious, who have attained self-mastery.

Arsov's film expresses a Jungian faith that it is possible for us to gain self-knowledge through our current experience, to overcome the shadow, and to heal. We can enter the real-virtual matrix, with its fake positivity and addictive appeals to egotism and compulsion - and we can, through careful consideration and introspection, exit into something better.

The film-maker uses controversial themes, including veiled references to Millennial anti-Semitism, which I will describe in a future post. It is horrible ground: anti-Semitism sits on the fault line of western consciousness. Arsov's snapshot of technocratic misery, with its moral pitfalls, depicts the world as seen by those who are 'woke' in the Internet underground.

All images from © Lubomir Arsov 2017.

Arsov's conclusion is gnostic, promising an alchemical marriage of the purified divine masculine and divine feminine. Welcome to the other-dimensional realm of 21st century virtual alchemy. You can read my earlier post on this perspective here.

Whether you care to enter Arsov's spiritual crucible or not, our current challenge is to build, migrate to, and inhabit virtual environments which are psychologically healthy. Although social media's founders engineered this malaise in the first place, the tech giants are moving aggressively to purge their platforms of radical thinkers and to declare their virtual communities as positive mental health zones.

It's a tough line to accept when you consider the fact that Mark Zuckerberg will testify before the US House of Representatives and Senate on 10-11 April 2018. He must explain how the data of 87 million people, mostly Americans, were sold to Cambridge Analytica. BBC reported that he is sending deputies to testify to the UK authorities. Facebook has acknowledged that the data on most of its 2 billion users could have been improperly accessed.

How the media can frame our perception of reality: Is THIS Japan?!? (14 March 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

"Sick of Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/Instagram/reddit and all the other controlled, centralized, censored, surveilled social engineering experiments masquerading as 'free' social media platforms? Well so am I! Join me in the coming weeks on corbettreport.com as I take a look at some of the alternative social media platforms that are coming online to challenge the big corporate giants.": Announcing a New Series on Alternative Social Media Platforms (3 April 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

In a recent interview, alt-news media figure James Corbett reflected on social media's addictive design. On 3 April 2018, he announced he would investigate alternative social media which are not established to suck away users' time, data, well-being, and energy. What would it be like, he wondered, to participate in online communities whose architecture was not pre-designed to undermine individual and collective psychological health?

ADDENDUM (Thursday, 12 April 2018): Defense One's Patrick Tucker reported today that Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Oracle are competing for an enormous defense contract awarded by the US Department of Defense, to be allocated at the end of 2018. The DoD is moving to the cloud, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI):
"The tech giant is going up against Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle for a Defense Department cloud contract that could be worth $10 billion. But the employees who signed a petition against Google's participation in a far smaller AI-infused military project have been less than impressed by the response of company leaders, who rolled out at a Wedensday town hall a plan to draft a set of ethical principles for the use of Google research and products. They're not likely to be happy to learn about the far bigger Pentagon contract that Google is going after, and the internal debate could undermine its chances for a victory."
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Google founder Sergey Brin and CEO Sundar Pichai in August 2017. Mattis also met with leaders at Amazon about this contract, which could disrupt the entire USD $100 billion federal IT market and "dominate it for years to come." According to Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord:
"'We are, no kidding, right now writing the contract to get everything moved to one cloud to begin with and then go from there,' said Lord, speaking Dec. 3[, 2017] at the Reagan Defense Forum. 'A fundamental shift we're making is to move the entire DOD to the cloud so our data can be shared and leveraged and we can do big data analytics.'"
Lord also said: "In the commercial world, all the data is there and you can mine it and use it and get more out of it."

Amazon is the front-runner to win this contract. In 2014, Amazon scored a $600 million intelligence-sharing contract with the CIA. Amazon Web Services won a different contract to share classified intelligence on Amazon Web Services's Secret Region cloud up to the 'Secret' level, shared between 17 US agencies. AWS also developed a 'Top Secret' separate cloud.

The enormous JEDI contract this year will consolidate US governance with the most advanced AI power of one of the biggest giants of the Silicon Valley:
"[T]he tech industry is spooked, and nearly every company that isn’t Amazon is speaking out against the Pentagon’s perceived plans because a departmentwide cloud contract would have massive consequences. Defense spends $40 billion on information technology annually and accounts for close to half the entire federal government’s tech spending. 'The Defense Department would be making a big mistake' if it awarded a single massive contract to one vendor, said Sam Gordy, general manager for IBM Federal."
Google is a close second to win the JEDI contract. But it is seen as being hampered by its feel good ethos and ethical employees (see reports, here, here, here, here). A protest letter, which has been circulating internally for weeks at the company, was signed by over 3,000 employees, including dozens of senior engineers. Here is the text of the letter, addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai:
Dear Sundar,

We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.

Google is implementing Project Maven, a customized AI surveillance engine that uses 'Wide Area Motion Imagery' data captured by US Government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions, and provide results to the Department of Defense.

Recently, Googlers voiced concerns about Maven internally. Diane Greene responded, assuring them that the technology will not 'operate or fly drones' and 'will not be used to launch weapons.' While this eliminates a narrow set of direct applications, the technology is being built for the military, and once it’s delivered it could easily be used to assist in these tasks.

This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust. By entering into this contract, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google. Google’s unique history, its motto Don’t Be Evil, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.

We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google’s stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the US Government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable.

Recognizing Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to Google’s reputation, we request that you:

1. Cancel this project immediately
2. Draft, publicize, and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology"
This letter is an example of an attempt to assert a democratic voice in a non-democratic corporate environment. But remember, Google has over 70,000 employees. The company has message boards and forums to encourage discussion on company policy, which has attracted attention in the past. Notice that there is a difference between the employees, who believe the company motto, 'Don't Be Evil,' and the company's leaders:
"Some of Google’s top executives have significant Pentagon connections. Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Google and still a member of the executive board of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, serves on a Pentagon advisory body, the Defense Innovation Board, as does a Google vice president, Milo Medin."
The membership of the Defense Innovation Board, in particular, is an eye-opener (including the COO of Instagram?!), with Eric Schmidt serving as chair.

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