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.

Showing posts with label Cyberpunk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cyberpunk. Show all posts

Friday, December 30, 2016

Productivity: The Last Domino to Fall in the Old System

In a previous post, Subliminal Slavery of the Subconscious Self, I summarized a BBC 2002 documentary, The Century of the Self, in which director Adam Curtis maintained that the mid-to-late 20th century was a time in which cause was divorced from effect, actions separated from consequences, in the name of preventing world war and genocide.

Curtis claimed that post-World War II mass culture became a giant pressure cooker experiment. The hypothesis ran that pre-World War II societies were repressed by old social values and religions. When societies became psychologically and emotionally over-repressed, they could suddenly blow and all the dark instincts of the community would surge out in racism, mass psychosis and murder. Psycho-social repression was the hypothesized cause of the Holocaust.

Image Source: Aussie Cool Story Club.

The prescribed remedy in western cultures, and later, global cultures, was to indulge the Jungian collective unconscious and mass shadow in a thousand different ways. Smaller vices were continually encouraged to give the big collective pressure cooker a way to let off steam. Celebrities came forth to personify aspects of the Freudian Id or Jungian Unconscious, in order to push those buttons in audiences. Derived from Austrian psychoanalysis, transported into American mass entertainment and mass politics, the pressure cooker slow release experiment wasn't a great idea.

A famous, early example of the 1960s' Hell-Sell technique, used in an actual Kent cigarettes ad, with explanation of the subliminal images and colours employed from a leaked advertising training manual. Part of the blurred-out message includes giant spiders mating on the girl's leg. Images Source: Whale.

As a result, as the Cold War wore on, any kind of inhibition in the name of old-fashioned social mores was condemned as social repression, an attack on liberty. Gone was the idea that norms reflected customs based in everyday life, and that norms connected people to habit, sanity, and reality. This is the kind of freedom that really enslaves people! The adoration of the libertine came at a price, because there was one place left where actions still connected to consequences.

Creation, making things, building things, was still directly related to making money. That correlation became more and more harshly enforced, more industrial, an assembly line governed by line managers, as time went on. Productivity was also unconsciously and in real terms wedded to the rise of the computer, so that we were expected to work like machines, battling against the continual threat of lack and loss. Space and time for productivity became supreme luxuries, reserved for the top few producers.

This is the logical inconsistency embedded in post-World War II global culture. Where all the other leashes were loosened, the last one, productivity, was inhumanly tightened. Normally, productivity is associated with discipline; that discipline was somewhat mitigated when other areas of life moved in parallel. But in developed countries, social limitations, personal restraints, and boundaries were erased. A lack of discipline rewarded and eased suffering in the personal realm. Meanwhile, all base survival was tied - with threats and desperation - to machine-like performance and productivity. The only place we were still connected to reality was through productivity, measured in time and money.

This paradoxical arrangement caused enormous social and cultural stresses, glossed over by blinking, flashing mass entertainment, bent on stating and restating: "It's all right. It's all right. It's all right." When, in fact, it was not all right and it did not correlate. One could not have no inhibitions on off hours, yet turn up bang on the dot on Monday to work like a robot. Or these days, turn up bang on the dot any time of the day or night, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to work like a robot, while also somehow simultaneously blowing off crazy steam in Id-dominated playgrounds.

Social theorists, political ideologues, and cultural gurus arose to reconcile the paradox and explain it away. For a time, the paradox could be cloaked, such that it offered the only ethical way to behave. Given its original historical premise, it was always presented as the only possible social structural counter-argument to racial genocide and world war. That is, workers were asked by broader culture to suppress their own souls in the name of making money or helping others to make money. But in all other respects, it was the height of right-thinking and social correctness to invert all previously-held values and to destroy self-limitations.

This post is not a conservative screed, moralizing or condemning libertinism. I merely observe that the formula was inconsistent and thus, the pattern is not sustainable. The paradox cannot hold for much longer. This must give way: the forceful over-expectation in Millennial working life, that this is the only way that cause can lead to effect, that actions can lead to consequences, that one must work oneself into the ground, second by second, to make money. While at the same time, in all other areas of life, irresponsibility and the divorce between actions and consequences prevail. One is minute-by-minute bombarded with media messages of war, disaster, chaos, and unbridled instinct. And counter to the pressure cooker experiment, our world is becoming more, not less, brutal, savage and potentially genocidal. It is a place where online beheadings and extreme porn are the norm and barely stir any profound response in the desensitized populace. Can you even remember what outrages you saw on the television or computer two weeks ago? Or what you ate for supper?

Further, as I noted in my post, Post-Apocalypse Rehab, mass media messages insist that the money you earn while acting like a robot rewards you by removing restraint in off hours. This is why we are surrounded by images of conspicuous consumption, which beg citizens to be irresponsible and disconnected from themselves and from reality in non-work areas of life. Supermodel sumptuousness and cinematic fictions of carnage create dreamlike distances from ongoing collective trauma. They allow the carnage in, so one engages, but from a quasi-safe position of cocoon-like detachment from the weirdness of living in this heaving, struggling world.

All of this must finally give way to a different way of living. The last domino to fall will be the outmoded way productivity is inflexibly correlated to money. This domino will fall in the name of consistency. You cannot train human beings to be hedonistic libertines for half a century, but deny them access to that final realm of freedom, within their own souls. Thus, in the last area where they are ordered inflexibly to be obedient, making money, they will rebel, because all other rules have been relaxed, inverted, abrogated, redefined, or overturned. The manner in which they redefine productivity and profitability may go either way: a soulful path or a libertine one.

The Internet is Ground Zero for this change. Cyberspace was supposed to broaden libertinism; it was a fantasyland, a computer playland. Cyberpunk was an extension of 1960s' and 1970s' drug culture. What a surprise, then, that after the initial wallowing in porn and LOLcat bullshit, computerland instead turned out to be a tough-as-nails Spartan training ground, which is now having radical impacts in the real world.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Next Gen Prophet

Next Gen/Prophet by Office courtesy of DMT Tapes FL (2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Yesterday, I went into a shop where there was a vinyl LP record player used as a prop; it was playing an early Van Morrison album that I have not heard in - a long time. The saleswoman told me her daughter, who is in her twenties, has never seen a vinyl record player and couldn't figure out how to turn it on. The record player was brand new, because vinyl LPs from the 1960s to the 1980s are back in fashion. From DMT Tapes FL, here is a track from the digital album: Compositions for Abandoned Shopping Malls (16 May 2015; Hat tip: Dan Bell). This retro-1980s electronic music is tagged alternative vaporwave / florida ambient / future funk / outsider ambient. Wiki:
"Vaporwave (or vapourwave) is a music genre and art movement that emerged in the early 2010s among Internet communities. It is characterized by a nostalgic or surrealist fascination with retro cultural aesthetics (typically of the 1980s, 1990s, and early-mid 2000s), entertainment technology, consumer culture and advertising, and styles of corporate and popular music such as lounge, smooth jazz and elevator music. Musical sampling is prevalent within the genre, with samples often pitched, layered or altered in classic chopped and screwed style. Central to the style is often a critical or satirical preoccupation with consumer capitalism, popular culture, and new-age tropes. ...

Music educator Grafton Tanner argued in his 2016 book Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts that 'Vaporwave is one artistic style that seeks to rearrange our relationship with electronic media by forcing us to recognize the unfamiliarity of ubiquitous technology.' He goes on in saying: 'Vaporwave is the music of non-times and non-places because it is skeptical of what consumer culture has done to time and space.' In his 2016 review of Hologram Plaza by Disconscious, an album in the mallsoft subgenre of vaporwave, Dylan Kilby of Sunbleach Media stated that '[t]he origins of mallsoft lie in the earliest explorations of vaporwave, where the concept of malls as large, soulless spaces of consumerism were evoked in some practitioner's utilization of vaporwave as a means for exploring the social ramifications of capitalism and globalization,' but that such an approach 'has largely petered out in the last few years in favor of pure sonic exploration/expression.'"
See my earlier posts on ambient music:

Image Source: reddit.

Image Source: Youtube.

Image Source: We Heart It.

Image Source: Phoenix 2772.

Vaporwave Wallpaper (2015). Image Source: Wallpaper Vortex.

Vaporwave Wallpaper (2016). Image Source: Wallpaper Vortex.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Awaken the Amnesiacs 3: The Hermetics

The hermetic principle of silence. Image Source: Lilipilyspirit.

Dark days behind us: today is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere and the summer solstice in the southern hemisphere (04:49 UTC). The December solstice refers to birth or rebirth of the weakened sun in northern countries, often described in allegorical terms, as one New Age writer puts it: "The sun is dawning after the increasing darkness of winter. The Winter Solstice is nature’s physical equivalent of a spiritual awakening and enlightenment." From Theosophy Northwest:
At the winter solstice the universal currents of life help human consciousness to enter divine spheres. At the same time spiritual energy can descend from higher worlds into the human arena: the gods "descend into hell" to garner experience in their underworld -- our own world -- thereby bringing inspiration and enlightenment to humanity. At this time each of us also may undergo a new birth. Nature has opened the door, and it is up to us to recognize this and take a step further.
For denizens of the New Age Internet, this solstice is the culmination of 2015's online spiritual awakening, perhaps a Fifth Great Awakening in the United States, occasioned by a proclaimed end to the war between the sexes. When combined with hermeticism, discussed in today's post, the gnostic truce between the sexes attacks all polarized categorizations of identity. Online gurus argue that only hardened egoists prosper in an environment where inflexible categorizations of identity are the norm. Spiritual commentators prefer to cultivate a continuum of identities and they expect that spectrum to expand social compassion.

The winter solstice at Stonehenge. Image Source: Stonehenge Trips.

In the aftermath of the supposed collapse of egocentric western dualism, hermeticists pick up the pieces, to recover cultural memory and allow their amnesiac followers to 'remember' earlier ways of identifying with the physical, rational, emotional and spiritual aspects of existence. The hermetic part of this phenomenon makes the now-gender-neutral collective unconscious 'conscious' in practical senses, as with the establishment of new political movements. Of course, the shift in values is not widespread or universal. Nor are gnostic-hermetic solutions necessarily good ones, whatever their devotees may expect.

One must step back from the arcane language and beliefs to observe the actual trend behind them. Online debates on these subjects in mid-late 2015 indicate a tipping point, wherein interaction in virtual reality has begun to change behaviour and awareness on deeper levels. The Internet is breaking down and synthesizing demarcated experiences, whether between mind and body, between the genders, between the individual and the collective, or between the local and global. Perhaps hermeticism and gnosticism are the most durable ideas available in western culture to describe flexible identification, as individuals find themselves simultaneously immersed in virtual reality and 'real' reality.

China's One Belt, One Road Initiative (2015). Image Source: Roman Wilhelm/MERICS/The Diplomat.

One may ask how spiritual issues pertain to hard reality. Why does the New Age Internet matter, when China is building naval bases in the South China Sea, the Red Sea, and on the west coast of Africa? These online trends matter because societies rise and fall according to their adaptability when confronted with jumps in technology, social changes, and ensuing geopolitical conflicts. World War III, when (or if) it arrives, and everything that leads up to it, will depend on global connectivity. How our brains respond to connectivity and the ideas we discover or rediscover through that response may be essential to cultural resourcefulness and survival.

To ask these questions about western values now is akin to asking how the introduction of the printing press in Germany (1439-1440) led to the Protestant Reformation (1517-1617) and the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). The spiritual and moral outlook of a society is indexed to its level of technology and prosperity. When the latter two factors change, so does the former. Anomie and aporia, experienced then as now, will lead to experiments to develop values better suited to new ways of living. But that process emerges through trial and error. Societies sometimes depend on war to determine a new dominant narrative.

My treatment of these topics comes with a caveat. While I may comment on unusual online material here, I do not personally identify with evidence I uncover. Hermetic traditions and politics can be weird, occult, radical, fringe or extremist. My comments in this series of blog posts do not constitute my endorsement of these beliefs. They are presented here as part of an examination of the cultural historical impact of the Internet on western values, under increasingly universalized, yet decentralized and chaotic conditions. I also do not personally agree with conspiracy theories mentioned here, but rather regard them as signs of contemporary mentalities.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Dark Seed's Other Dimension

The librarian from Dark Seed (1992). Image Source: Red and White Kop.

One of the most famous early horror video games, Dark Seed, was released by Cyberdreams in 1992. It is noted for its haunting artwork by the late Swiss artist, H. R. Giger, and its ground-breaking high resolution graphics. Unusually for its format, the game heightened stress by forcing the player to complete tasks within a limited time. Otherwise, the player had to start again. This is because an alien-like 'dark seed' has been implanted in the protagonist, who must solve several interrelated real world and other dimensional puzzles before the embryo is born and kills him and all of humankind. The protagonist can only last three days in his newly-purchased, otherworldly house!

Giger's contribution lays out an ever-worsening excursion into an unforgivingly crazy and monochromatic subconscious. It's so frankly and unflinchingly portrayed that at times you can't help but laugh at how dreadful it all is. The plot opens as a man moves into a dilapidated mansion, where his nightmares and daily routine begin to converge:
Mike Dawson is a successful advertising executive and writer who has recently purchased an old mansion on Ventura Drive (named after Ventura Boulevard) in the small town of Woodland Hills. On his first night at the house, Mike has a nightmare about being imprisoned by a machine that shoots an alien embryo into his brain. He wakes up with a severe headache and, after taking some aspirins and a shower, explores the mansion. He finds clues about the previous owner's death, which reveal the existence of a parallel universe called the Dark World ruled by sinister aliens called the Ancients.
Because today's games are so advanced, it is easy to overlook this early horror gem. Watch the extended gameplay below the jump. Have the patience to follow it through, and it delivers an abiding, nasty creepiness, frayed nerves, and a nagging, subliminal uncertainty about reality. Wiki: "In 2006 Gametrailers.com named [Dark Seed] the seventh scariest game of all time, ranking it above Clock Tower, System Shock 2, and Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem."

Game conception drew from H. P. Lovecraft and from Giger's designs for the 1979 film, Alien. Watch for the reference to 'Joe Tuttle,' the gardener, who appears as well in the The Changeling (1980; see it here or here) and The Others (2001). A sequel, Dark Seed II (1995; gameplay here), was influenced by David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990-1991), and also featured horror lurching between two worlds. H. R. Giger did not participate directly in making the sequel. For that reason, the first game remains the unsettling classic.

Still from Dark Seed (1992). Image Source: Red and White Kop.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Farewell to H. R. Giger

H. R. Giger in 1978. Image Source: IB Times.

Very sad news today: Swiss surrealist artist Hans Rudolf 'Ruedi' Giger died on 12 May 2014. He was 74. Giger was a Posthuman visionary who glimpsed an uncomfortable future, where humans and machines would combine biomechanically around sexuality. In the 1960s, Giger contemplated grotesque human bodies, twisted by nuclear radiation. Other influences on his work included H. P. Lovecraft, Samuel Beckett and Edgar Wallace, all of whom created fantastical worlds which were metaphors for layers of human consciousness.

Giger with alien design. Image Source: Twentieth Century Fox via Guardian.

Giger gained worldwide renown for his design of the monster on Alien (1979). Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon met Giger and saw a book of his sketches during Alejandro Jodorowsky's ill-fated film adaptation of the novel Dune. Giger's images helped inspire O'Bannon's earliest Alien script; on O'Bannon's urging, director Ridley Scott asked Giger to design the alien, based on Giger's painting Necronom IV. Giger also designed the Facehugger, the Chestburster, the Derelict spaceship, and the Space Jockey. He and fellow Alien production artists won an Oscar. Giger worked on later movies in the franchise as well as other films.

The Necronom IV (1976), inspiration for the alien. Image Source: IB Times.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Beauty, A Measure of Time

The Venus de Milo (130-100 BCE). Image Source: Milos Island.

Except for the Golden Ratio, there is no template for beauty. But you would never know its infinite variety if you looked at the world's movie and media industries. Roughly every half decade, western popular culture has held up an iconic feminine type. The same is true of men. For example, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire shared similar fame and features in the early-to-mid 2000s.

Does a beautiful woman determine the fashion - or do designers set the trend by promoting a particular look? This is a chicken-egg question. I would argue that fashion, movie and media designers do not entirely decide the trends. For a brief window of time, a small bevy of beautiful women somehow channel the aspirations and desires of the Zeitgeist - and then their style becomes a fashion. The ladies who rise to prominence often resemble each other - or they are made up to resemble one another. Below the jump, see a few examples from 1980 to 2000.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Establishing the New Establishment

Title card to the opening of Episode 1 of the BBC series, Civilisation (1969). Image Source: BBC via Wiki.

Over the past generation, the word, 'civilization,' especially as it relates to 'Western Civilization,' (in capital letters) has become a contested subject. A politicized view in academic circles inverted the concept once taken for granted in the 1950s and 1960s. Scholars have challenged the idea of civilization as a source of racism, blind arrogance and violent imperial domination of other societies. Sometimes the critique looks at the Christian religion as a source of benighted oppression. Sometimes the fatal flaws of 'civilization' are colonialism, discrimination and power imbalances around race, class or gender. This post describes that Western/post-Western debate. It also considers how that debate has distracted from, and obscured, the evolution of new institutions and social conditions which constitute an emerging new establishment.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Calling all Chronomancers

 Image Source: TV Tropes.

Millennial Aporia - the collapse and evolution of values - may reflect an antagonistic attitude toward time, an attitude we must resolve. In a blog post earlier this month, Tara Mohr quoted the late Irish priest and poet, John O’Donahue, who said: “One of the biggest problems of modern life is that time has become the enemy.” Mohr argued that there is something extremely disturbing about our war with time.  To exist in conflict with time, she says, is to be in conflict with ourselves.  Since time shapes human consciousness, Mohr believes we should revise our current view of the passage of time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Technology and Society - Living Organisms

Twitter predicts the stock market (18 October 2010). Image: physics arXiv blog.

Two big Cyberpunk movie franchises from the turn of the century, The Terminator and The Matrix, depended on a cataclysmic moment when computer networks turned sentient. There is no danger of that yet, although there are signs of networks taking on an organic momentum of their ownThe Internet may reflect the confluence of human thought and action in such a way as to make it representative of the collective senses of society.  In the minds of some, like society itself, the Internet is almost a living creature.  This idea lay at the heart of the excellent Darren Aronofsky movie, PiThe concept clearly drives Google's seminal research into Artificial Intelligence.

Recent research along these lines by Johan Bollen and colleagues at Indiana University shows that Twitter is exhibiting the characteristics of an organic entity. This result was reported last October at the Technology Review: "An analysis of almost 10 million tweets from 2008 shows how they can be used to predict stock market movements up to 6 days in advance."  This is because Twitter is apparently a good index of the emotional state of the Twitterverse at large and that emotional state can be gauged:
Numerous studies show that stock market prices are not random and this implies that they ought to be predictable. The question is how to do it consistently. Today, Johan Bollen at Indiana University and a couple of pals say they've found just such a predictor buried in the seemingly mindless stream of words that emanates from the Twitterverse. For some time now, researchers have attempted to extract useful information from this firehose. One idea is that the stream of thought is representative of the mental state of humankind at any instant. Various groups have devised algorithms to analyse this datastream hoping to use it to take the temperature of various human states.
One algorithm, called the Google-Profile of Mood States (GPOMS), records the level of six states: happiness, kindness, alertness, sureness, vitality and calmness. 
The question that Bollen and co ask is whether any of these states correlates with stock market prices. After all, they say, it is not entirely beyond credence that the rise and fall of stock market prices is influenced by the public mood.  So these guys took 9.7 million tweets posted by 2.7 million tweeters between March and December 2008 and looked for correlations between the GPOMS indices and whether Dow Jones Industrial Average rose of fell each day. Their extraordinary conclusion is that there really is a correlation between the Dow Jones Industrial Average and one of the GPOMS indices--calmness. In fact, the calmness index appears to be a good predictor of whether the Dow Jones Industrial Average goes up or down between 2 and 6 days later. "We find an accuracy of 87.6% in predicting the daily up and down changes in the closing values of the Dow Jones Industrial Average," say Bollen and co[.] That's an incredible result--that a Twitter mood can predict the stock market--but the figures appear to point that way. ...

But there are at least two good reasons to suspect that this result may not be all it seems. The first is the lack of plausible mechanism: how could the Twitter mood measured by the calmness index actually affect the Dow Jones Industrial Average up to six days later? Nobody knows.

The second is that the Twitter feeds Bollen and co-used were not just from the US but from around the globe. Although it's probably a fair assumption that a good proportion of these tweeters were based in the US in 2008, there's no way of knowing what proportion. By this reckoning, tweeters in Timbuktu somehow help predict the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
Bollen's publication is listed at Cornell University Library here.  The possibility that Twitter could be used to predict the stock market caused a fair amount of buzz.  But it really has much broader implications. Bollen and his co-authors speak of the collective emotional state of society, as assessed by evident patterns of behaviour on the Internet:
Behavioral economics tells us that emotions can profoundly affect individual behavior and decision-making. Does this also apply to societies at large, i.e., can societies experience mood states that affect their collective decision making? By extension is the public mood correlated or even predictive of economic indicators? ... We analyze the text content of daily Twitter feeds by two mood tracking tools, namely OpinionFinder that measures positive vs. negative mood and Google-Profile of Mood States (GPOMS) that measures mood in terms of 6 dimensions (Calm, Alert, Sure, Vital, Kind, and Happy).
Separate research at Princeton has examined how ideas proliferate (Hat tip: Erekalert via Lee Hamilton's blog). Again, the researchers' focus is identifying the next big idea before it happens. In other words, it is not just a question of viewing the Internet as a system in which ideas hatch and grow. This vision extrapolates those patterns so that the Internet becomes a tool of prognostication:
Princeton computer scientists have developed a new way of tracing the origins and spread of ideas, a technique that could make it easier to gauge the influence of notable scholarly papers, buzz-generating news stories and other information sources.

The method relies on computer algorithms to analyze how language morphs over time within a group of documents -- whether they are research papers on quantum physics or blog posts about politics -- and to determine which documents were the most influential.

"The point is being able to manage the explosion of information made possible by computers and the Internet," said David Blei, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton and the lead researcher on the project. "We're trying to make sense of how concepts move around. Maybe you want to know who coined a certain term like 'quark,' or search old news stories to find out where the first 1960s antiwar protest took place."

Blei said the new search technique might one day be used by historians, political scientists and other scholars to study how ideas arise and spread. ... Blei said their model was not meant as a replacement for citation counts but as an alternative method for measuring influence that might be extended to finding influential news stories, websites, and legal and historical documents.

"We are also exploring the idea that you can find patterns in how language changes over time," he said. "Once you've identified the shapes of those patterns, you might be able to recognize something important as it develops, to predict the next big idea before it's gotten big."
This desire to find the 'big picture' by following the paths of information coursing through our culture reappears in the study of 'transmedia.'  Transmedia, according to Hukilau is: "interactive storytelling across multiple media and platforms. The story actually cuts across, loops between and re-enforces the different strands that tie together the different platform exploitations. In other words, each component part is relevant to a whole – the bigger picture."

The suspicion that there is a process embedded within the Intenet that makes it an entity unto itself fuels Millennial conspiracy theories.  At no other time in the history of the world could you have so many innocuous bits of data juxtaposed, seemingly granting them meaning.  The resultant mentality responds well to stories that associate different agents in the global economy, granting that association a malevolent aspect. In late 2010, a typical example appeared in Pravda (via Before It's News), which reported the fact that Monsanto recently purchased Blackwater (now called Xe).  Monsanto has developed an "intelligence wing" that conducts industrial intelligence operations and also keeps an eye on the biotech giant's many critics.

Without a doubt, a team-up between Monsanto and Blackwater is fairly alarming. However, another aspect to this story is our basic, knee-jerk response to it.  Our automatic credulousness is a major problem. We want to believe in deep dark secrets everywhere, as helter skelter blobs of information suddenly end up next to each other, seemingly creating a whole new dimension of menace. Where are the sources for some of these brooding news bytes? Who manufactures these news items - and to what end? There is always another wizard working the levers behind another velvet curtain.  To be clear: it is part of the nature of the Information Revolution to mash data together mechanically without any rhyme or reason.  Yet in these mash-ups, we inevitably perceive sense and order where there really isn't any.

Informatics specialists' research into a 'bigger picture' inside the Internet is the sober aspect of this credulousness. This research retains the assumption that the Internet can be tamed and harnessed. These researchers accept the fundamental premise that there is a demi-god in the machine, an internal order, that can be comprehended and released, Phoenix-like, and hatch a golden egg called the Singularity

The Singularity is perhaps the most concrete expression of this type of magical thinking. It is a view of the Tech boom that also reveals generational rifts. In general, the core proponents of the Singularity - the point at which technology in our society exponentially transforms us and our societies beyond all recognition - are Baby Boomers. They betray the same rapturous idealism when speaking about the potential of the Information Revolution, the same iconoclastic convictions, that they manufactured forty years ago in their collective youth. I09's top editor, Gen Xer Annalee Newitz, pours cold water on it:
I don't believe in the Singularity for the same reason I don't believe in Heaven. Once I met a Singularity zealot who claimed that eating potato chips after the Singularity would induce sublime ecstasy. Our senses would be so heightened that we could completely focus our whole attention on the ultimate chippiness of the chip. For him, the Singularity was just like Sunday school Heaven, full of turbo versions of everything we love down here on Earth. But instead of an all-powerful God zotting angel puppies into existence for our pleasure, we would be using the supposed tools of the Singularity like nanotech and A.I. to conjure up the tastiest junk food ever.

That is not a vision of social progress; it is, in fact, a complete failure to imagine how technology might change society in the future. Though it's easy to parody the poor guy who talked about potato chips after the Singularity, his faith is emblematic of Singulatarian beliefs. Many scientifically-minded people believe the Singularity is a time in the future when human civilization will be completely transformed by technologies, specifically A.I. and machines that can control matter at an atomic level (for a full definition of what I mean by the Singularity, read my backgrounder on it). The problem with this idea is that it's a completely unrealistic view of how technology changes everyday life.

Case in point: Penicillin. Discovered because of advances in biology, and refined through advances in biotechnology, this drug cured many diseases that had been killing people for centuries. It was in every sense of the term a Singularity-level technology. It extended life, and revolutionized medical treatment. And yet in the long term, it wound up leaving us just as vulnerable to disease. Bacteria mutated, creating nastier infections than we've ever seen before. Now we're turning to pro-biotics rather than anti-biotics; we're investigating gene therapies to surmount the troubles we've created by massively deploying penicillin and its derivatives.

That is how Singularity-level technologies work in real life. They solve dire problems, sure. They save lives. But they also create problems we'd never imagined - problems that might have been inconceivable before that Singularity tech was invented.
Newitz is correct: there is no proof that globalized, overlapping computer systems and algorithms will produce some ultimate rationalized process. The Internet offers something else: cultural entropy, disintegration and degradation. For example, look at how the Internet shreds time and consumes personal lives. I like to imagine someone from the 18th century alighting in our society, and witnessing millions of people, staring for hours into grey boxes and little black gadgets. To the time traveller, it would be a picture of hell.

That is not to say that we will descend into chaos because of the Tech Revolution. Neither good nor bad outcomes are certain. The assumption that we are all on a road up into the light of progress colours researchers' inquiries into the internal mysteries of the Internet. It would be just as easy to argue and prove that we are heading toward fractured social oblivion and total tech-driven war - as it would be to say that sites like Twitter can explain the collective emotions of online users and predict the performance of the stock market. Moreover, this research comes out during the worst recession since the 1930s.

In short, algorithms may correlate blobs of information in a way that suggests causal connections between them. That is a logical fallacy. Some predictions garnered from deep study of online structures may produce results that make sense. But it is still magical thinking. The notion that the Internet can predict the future and unlock our ultimate mysteries is an illusion, which will sometimes work, and sometimes will not.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Millennial Extremes 1: Mysteries of the Oort Cloud

Image Source: NASA/JPL via Wiki.

The Daily Mail recently carried a report on growing speculation that our solar system may have a new planet on the edge of our solar system, Tyche, which could be a gas giant four times the size of Jupiter.  Tyche, named for the petty deity that protected the fortunes and destinies of ancient Greek cities, is the pet project of astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  They believe that irregularities in comet paths could prove the existence of Tyche within two years: "[Whitmire] told the Independent: 'If it does, [... Matese] and I will be doing cartwheels. And that's not easy at our age.'"  They have been searching for Tyche since Matese proposed its existence in 1999.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blade Runner Sequel and Prequel Rumours

Sean Young as Rachael in Blade Runner (1982). Image: Warner Brothers.

I09 and Bleeding Cool are reporting that a Warner Brothers-related company, Alcon, is buying the rights to produce spin-off movies around Blade Runner.  Despite the nay-sayers, I hold out hope that they will do a decent job.  And will someone please cast Sean Young?  A 2007 EW report quoted her as saying that she was "a comeback waiting to happen."  I wish someone would take her word for it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fountain of Youth 8: The Immortal Game

Alien vs. Predator: Chess (2009-2010). © By Xidon. Reproduced with kind permission.

Everyone who has seen Ridley Scott's classic 1982 film Blade Runner knows the lines: "Queen to Bishop 6. Knight takes Queen. Bishop to King 7. Checkmate, I think."  BRMovie.com analyzes the film's chess game between the AI designer Tyrell and the android Roy Batty: "On a simple level, the game can be seen as just the fight of replicants against humans. However, The Immortal Game is also a clear reflection of the struggle for longer life that Roy and his fellow replicants seek. They want to escape from their status as pawns and find immortality (as a pawn becoming a queen on the eighth rank). Yet another layer can be seen at the individual level with Roy chasing King Tyrell. In the game, Roy checkmates Tyrell. In life, Roy sets up Tyrell - Tyrell gets some false confidence just before the end, but just as in the game, the King eventually dies." I would add to that intepretation that Blade Runner depicts humans playing God by creating sentient machinesThe machines occupy the position where humans are now: questioning their Creator and demanding immortality from Him. But while doing this, we create a deep philosophical problem because we are also looking to our tech tools to prolong our own lives. This connundrum suggests that we are trying to prolong and exalt our humanity by losing our humanity.  And we will end up in a battle to the death with the very tools we are using to do it.  In the end, we could become Posthuman monsters, playing a giant chess game with androids that are also monsters.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gnostics, Gnostics Everywhere!

Ecclesia Gnostica in Nova Albion blog compares Gnosticism to Mahayana Buddhism.

Examiner.com has recently posted a list of questions you can ask yourself to see if you have succumbed to the mass resurgence of the Christian heresy of gnosticism, which has infected popular culture, academia and politics. Eric Voegelin believed that most 19th and 20th century ideologies were gnostic, from Marxism, to feminism, to postmodernism. The linguists, the semioticians, the cyberpunks, the quantum physicists are, in their course of thought, Christian heretics and Neoplatonists. We have a belief system rampant in our culture, with most people unaware of it, even as they subscribe to its values. The Examiner also has a list of the sexiest gnostics of all time, including Neo of The Matrix movies.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Time and the Philosophers 2: From Arthur Prior to Blade Runner

Sean Young playing Rachael in Blade Runner, a wistful android thrown in with teeming humanity (1982).  Image © Warner Bros.

Postmodernists claim that all of our knowledge, and our entire mindset, ensues from language.  Trapped inside the language game, we cannot think without linguistic structures.  This philosophical theory condemns us to moral relativism and deprives us of agency outside of the systems that Postmodernists identify.  Is this so?  Or does language, with its foundations buried in our understanding of time, provide us with a secret trap door?  Does time allow us to think outside of language?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Retro-Futurism 5: Dreams of the Metropolis

Poster for Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927).

I've found a great collection of retro-futuristic pictures of urban concept art at Dark Roasted Blend.  These are speculations about a future in which "living in mega-cities was considered a privilege. That gleaming Metropolis on the horizon? - Something to aspire to, the glorious destination to dream about, to shape your life accordingly and reach it as the utmost reward... Such ideas were popular in the infant days of futurism, in fantastic literature on both sides of the Atlantic. Thankfully the 'mega-urbanism' dream is replaced today by quite the opposite idea of an affluent living in the country."  Mega-cities are a futuristic concept from the 1920s that shaped much of the twentieth century's idea of cosmopolitan life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Fountain of Youth 1: Why is Noir the Style of the Future and Immortality?

Blade Runner (1982).

Why are there so many films about the future that depend upon a resuscitation of film noir style? Neo-noir has been a revived favourite standard for thrillers from the 1980s to the 2000s, but why is science fiction a flourishing noir sub-genre? Is it just the huge impact of cyberpunk, related to the Tech Revolution? Perhaps science fiction from the 1950s to 1970s, like Philip K. Dick’s neo-gnostic and post-apocalyptic works fed readily into neo-noir styled films based on his work, like 1982’s Blade Runner? Or is there something about noir style specifically that speaks to how we think of the future and Blade Runner's concepts of mortality and conflicted humanity?