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 Matrix. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Matrix. Show all posts

Monday, March 23, 2020

Coronavirus Fragments 11: The Hidden Blessings of Disillusionment

Image Source: 4chan.

Like the German prepper above with normies looking on, we are divided between those who believe official and unofficial narratives about the nCov pandemic. Sadly, the prepper - who looks like a lunatic - is right, and those around him are wrong.

For those with confidence in our authorities, it is hard to imagine that Underground information could be true, when it is not properly verified or connected to mainstream reports.

That division between citizens depends on whether the system has been good to them. Only those who have previously been thrust into the outer darkness believe that the darkness is there. Some libertarian commentators think the darkness is real, but the virus is not; they believe that the pandemic will be a red pill for a lot of people, as the 2008 recession or 9/11 were for others before them. Most economic commentators agree that the 'everything bubble' was unsustainable; the economy will collapse and never be the same again.

Image Source: pinterest.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Hallowe'en Countdown 2018: The Skeleton Key

Olga Neuwirth, Lost Highway opera stills (2003), based on the 1997 film by David Lynch.

In this year's Hallowe'en countdown, I have been describing a malaise that unnerves us. There is a collective sense that things have gone wrong and somewhere, there is an answer why. Somewhere, there is a skeleton key. If you had it, you could unlock all the problems, find their solutions, and blink yourself awake into a better world.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Coups

Since October, the Internet has been gripped by fevered speculation boiling up from 4chan and 8chan. A mysterious leaker going by the handle 'QAnon' has been releasing cryptic messages about American political drama behind the scenes. The tweet above, and another from the US Navy, resemble Q's posts on 8chan made before Christmas, hinting that Q is connected to the military or intelligence. Even Trump himself appears to have made tweets which connect to Q's posts. This implies that the military supports Trump's administration and current consolidation of power. If you are curious, all of Q's messages have been archived here.

Screenshot Source: The Daily Rabbit Hole.

Among other things, the speculation around Q refers to: American domestic politics; photos taken from Air Force One; Julian Assange and a break-in at the WikiLeaks' lawyers' offices Baltasar Garzon in Madrid on 18 December 2017; UFO rumours (for mainstream coverage, go here, here and here); and the Koreas.

An alt-media summary: Who is Q Anon An overview (24 December 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

The discussion about QAnon is a huge interactive experience, largely ignored Trump's critics, who would not search for, or watch, this information. But they should pay attention: this covert underground extravaganza is a lesson on how Trump dominates the Internet and derives his support from it, no matter how much the tech giants censor his supporters. Q prompts netizens to embark on a crowd-sourced information treasure hunt to decode his or her posts. Some of them have tabulated their answers to Q's hints and questions here. You can see the impact of the campaign on Twitter here and Reddit here. For example, the tweet below asks whether the CIA is arming North Korea in response to Q's Matrix prompt, Follow the White Rabbit.

One Youtube commenter felt that Q's posts are not leaks so much as the next generation of mass manipulation. That is, leaks carry an aura of legitimacy and righteousness, a scourge on the corrupt den of politics. But really, that righteousness is a smokescreen for what is effectively a military coup. Or so the chatter maintains:
"Consider that Q is a psy op. Yes, it does seem to be coming from high up. But we should be questioning the narrative that says lay down and let the police state (martial law?) drain the swamp. How long will it take before we realize the horror of what this rollout really is? (Speculating. A possibility. Think Standing Rock) OR, when Trump's term is up and the swamp hasn't been drained anywhere near the extent that this narrative claims is currently happening, will we start to question the validity of Q (as well as the whole Trump savior narrative)? Notice how Hillary supporters wait with baited breath at Trumps demise the same as Trump's supporters wait for Hillary/Obama/etc. demise. How long will we wait and keep buying the bs that justice is currently underway so we should be patient. There are multiple narratives. Some are partly true. So, irresistible. What's the endgame Q? Or Tyler, or whoever the fuck you are."
Whatever Q is or is not, his or her underground posts show a superb grasp of Internet dynamics and underground mass media communication - and of managing an intended outcome from that communication. That intended outcome is not yet determined.

Some people think QAnon is NSA whistle-blower Thomas Drake because Drake often wears a 'Q' pin on his suit jacket lapel in interviews. Image Source: Open Canada.

(Hat tip: Jordan Sather, whom I have previously mentioned here; his Christmas video on this subject reached #42 in trending videos on Youtube today.)

ADDENDUM: For a 27 December 2017 discussion with the 8chan board owners on the significance of QAnon and the meaning of Leutze's painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, circulated in this context first by Q, then by the US Department of Defense, go here. Warning: some people may find the discussion to be questionable and offensive.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Interstellar Hystery

"This artist’s impression shows the first interstellar asteroid: `Oumuamua. This unique object was discovered on 19 October 2017 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawai`i. Subsequent observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that it was travelling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. `Oumuamua seems to be a dark red highly-elongated metallic or rocky object, about 400 metres long, and is unlike anything normally found in the Solar System." Image Source: ESO/M. Kornmesser; image published 20 November 2017.

Since the end of October, astronomers have been buzzing about the first ever observed interstellar visitor to our solar system. Jointly confirmed by ten observatories as it was momentarily captured by the gravity of our sun, this asteroid has arrived from elsewhere in our galaxy. The International Astronomical Union has now given this rock a name, 1I/2017 U1 ('Oumuamua - pronunciation here). The name is a Hawaiian word meaning “a messenger from afar arriving first.” The asteroid was spotted on 19 October 2017 by Robert Weryk with the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) telescope at the University of Hawaii.

Video Source: Guardian.

What struck me, looking at its path, is how strict and staid the average person's view still is of the cosmos. That is, on the unconscious level, our view of reality is shaped by the order and predictability of our tiny solar system - sun plus planets on a plane, the night sky punctuated by familiar constellations. The visit of 'Oumuamua is a reminder of the scope of space and its unpredictability. Of course, thousands of these interstellar objects regularly enter our system, and our limited knowledge of them is symptomatic of our level of science and technology, rather than their absence.

"A/2017 U1 is probably of interstellar origin. This NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech diagram shows its path of travel from above the plane of our solar system, around the sun and past earth at 44 kilometres per second. It was closest to the sun on Sept. 9." Image Source: NASA JPL/Caltech via Weather Network.

"This diagram shows asteroid 'Oumuamua's path through the solar system. An analysis of its path shows that it is coming from the direction of where the star Vega is now, although Vega would not have been at that location millions of years ago. Now that it is leaving, it is headed for the constellation Pegasus. A new report, written using observations made using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, is now providing even more information about this asteroid." Image Source: ESO/K. Meech et al. via Weather Network.

Friday, September 22, 2017

If Sin was Visible: An Interview with Dan Vyleta

Today, I am very pleased to interview novelist Dan Vyleta about his 2016 novel, Smoke; the Canadian paperback edition was released in July 2017.

Dan grew up in Germany after his family left Czechoslovakia in the late 1960s. He holds a doctorate in history from King’s College, Cambridge and has written three previous novels, Pavel & I (2008), The Quiet Twin (2011), and The Crooked Maid (2013). The Quiet Twin was shortlisted for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. The Crooked Maid was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the 2014 J. I. Segal Award. Dan currently teaches creative writing at the University of Birmingham.

Dan’s novel Smoke is a magical historical story of Victorian England. The novel will remind readers of Charles Dickens, especially Oliver Twist, Hard Times, and Dombey and Son. As with Dickens’s novels, Smoke is a social novel which reaches a conclusion about what is wrong in society and what is right.

There is a contrast between the country and the city during the Industrial Revolution, reminiscent of Blake’s “dark Satanic mills,” except in this novel, the Victorian smoke in question comes not from factories but from people! Smoke begins at an Ă©lite school, with nods to later works: The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, and The Secret History.

There, the similarities with other authors end. Smoke begins with a quote from Dombey and Son (1848) – what if sin was visible?
“Those who study the physical sciences, and bring them to bear upon the health of Man, tell us that if the noxious particles that rise from the vitiated air were palpable to the sight, we should see them lowering in a dense black cloud above such haunts, and rolling slowly on to corrupt the better portion of a town. But if the moral pestilence that rises with them … could be made discernible too, how terrible the revelation!”
In Smoke, a fictionalized Victorian concern for morality conceals today’s obsession with transparency, truth, and corruption. As with other 21st century works, the historical setting really addresses Millennial problems. And the way Vyleta does this defies all expectations.

Note: All page references below are from the UK 2016 hardcover edition, published by Doubleday.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

New UK Export: Police State Tools

How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states - BBC News (20 June 2017). Video Source: BBC via Youtube.

NSA in a box: on 20 June 2017, BBC reported that a UK firm, BAE systems, exported nation-wide surveillance and decryption tools to Arab states, notably the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco. The BBC reporter found that this exported technology will potentially be used against the UK. Takeaway quote: "You'd be able to intercept any Internet traffic. If you wanted to do a whole country - go ahead!"

Image Source: BAE Systems.

The 52nd International Paris Air Show is on now from 19 to 25 June 2017, with reps talking about everything from commercial jets to quantum entanglement. The aerospace industry increasingly considers military applications in space. Jane's reported that BAE is there, seeking to expand its custom for fighter jets in Belgium and Finland. Despite political tensions between Trump's America and a liberal Europe, on 18 June 2017 Defense News stated that US military industry reps were sanguine: it's "full speed ahead" between Europe and the USA when it comes to aerospace and arms deals. While the event is on, you can watch a livestream from the Paris Air Show here.

Le Bourget roundup Day 1 (20 June 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Red Pill, Blue Pill, Green Pill, Black Pill

Forbidden fruit: The Apple logo is commonly considered to make an occult reference to the Garden of Eden and relates computer use to forbidden knowledge, information, and soul-testing enlightened liberation. Image Source: The Open Scroll.

Before 1999, there was no word in English, as far as I know, to describe information which shatters one's world view. Techno-political ideologies evolve from an overdose on information and subsequent, broken views of the world.

Information as Forbidden Fruit

The first cyber-ideology to describe the disillusionment of the Information Age was called the red pill, or being red-pilled. The term comes from the film, The Matrix (1999) and Morpheus's speech on how to deal with knowing something you can't explain:
"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more."
Red pilling starts with the feeling that there is something wrong in the world, and you don't know what it is. Everywhere you look, things have gone wrong.

The splinter, driving you mad, is that you are a slave, born into bondage in an invisible prison: The Matrix (1999) © Warner. Reproduced non-commercially under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wonders of the Millennial World 8: The Kaleidoscope

Image Source: World Arts Film Festival.

Posts on this blog have asked about the impact of technology on traditional life, a destabilization of norms, and a dislocation from stable geographical and economic bases. The shift from static to kinetic applies in media as in life. Perhaps the dynamic Millennial existence resembles a kaleidoscope, where identity, time, memory, place, beliefs, the virtual and real, constantly tumble and lock into new realities. All elements are moving pieces which come together in a way that resembles living systems. The trick to see this is depth of perspective.

Naturally occurring fractal pattern, cells in a cross-section of a plant stalk. Image Source: pinterest.

Neuronal cells. Image Source: Eye of Science.

"Equivocal kaleidoscope. Ai Weiwei welded 150 bicycle frames into an impressive installation. The work is not only a reference to cars taking over the streets in China, but also to a prominent show trial. Several years ago, a young Chinese man was arrested and mistreated for not registering his bicycle. He was later sentenced to death." Image Source: DW.

Microphotograph of the ovary of a flower by Ray Nelson. Image Source: The Daily Polymer Arts Blog.

Image Source: Hotel-R.

Electric pulses from a human brain cell. Image Source: 123RF.

Trippy 014: Psychedelic particles randomly pulse and flow (Loop). Image Source: Shutterstock.

Human Cerebral Cortex, Alfonso Rodríguez-Baeza and Marisa Ortega-Sánchez, scanning electron microscope (2009). Image Source: pinterest. Compare with the brain cell gif in my post, Making Memories.

Marker art installation by artist Heike Weber (2013). Image Source: Bored Panda. Compare with the installations of artist Clemens Behr.

See my earlier post on Microphotography.
See all my posts on Wonders of the Millennial World.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: Ashley Madison's Fembot Mirrors

Image Source: Ashley Madison via All the Hits 107.3.

The Ashley Madison adultery site hack was a surreal lesson in cyberethics. The weirdest fact to emerge was that most of the women on the site were not real. To sign up for these online "guaranteed affairs," many male users were deluded enough to romance Matrix-like illusions driven by computer programs. That meant that they were really only engaging with themselves. These men may not have had real affairs. That does not make the situation better, because what they did was worse. They lost their grip on reality in exchange for a fantasy about their erotic selves. They paid to make love to bots constructed to reflect their own fantasies back at them, while they created the potential to ruin their reputations, their morality, their families and their marriages. In this regard, this site is and was an elaborate machine for erotic-ego-auto-response. Ashley Madison is and was a big, horrible mirror which has allowed its deceived male users to use fembots in an act of self-annihilation. The hackers, Impact Team, had this to say:
Avid Life Media has failed to take down Ashley Madison and Established Men. We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data. Find someone you know in here? Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. See ashley madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world's biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters. Find yourself in here? It was ALM that failed you and lied to you. Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you'll get over it.
Image Source: Motherboard.

According to this report from Bustle, Impact Team seemed to target Ashley Madison vengefully, as though the hackers had a private reason to attack the company. A BBC report quoted the former Avid Life Media CEO, Noel Biderman, who speculated that at least one of the hackers had had some connection with the company. The hack may have been a vendetta, since the hackers remarked that they would target any company or politician making "100s of millions profiting off pain of others." They told Motherboard that they started the hack a long time ago, and they regarded the site's customers as addicts:
We were in Avid Life Media a long time to understand and get everything. Finally we watched Ashley Madison signups growing and human trafficking on the sites. Everyone is saying 37 million! Blackmail users! We didn't blackmail users. Avid Life Media blackmailed them. But any hacking team could have. We did it to stop the next 60 million. Avid Life Media is like a drug dealer abusing addicts.
It looks like the hackers were not dealing out abstract hacktivist justice but had personal reasons to bring down this Website. At least the Impact Team could rely on a public backlash against Ashley Madison. Adultery with bots is still shocking, so this example tells us where we are at the moment in terms of cyber-ethics and cyber-consciousness.

Ashley Madison was planning a new app called, 'What's Your Wife Worth?' Image Source: Boing Boing.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bitcoin's Origins: Generational Circumstances and Mentalities

Image Source and © Scenes from a Multiverse (27 December 2013).

Today's post explains the origins of cryptocurrency behind Bitcoin's alarming headlines. Under what circumstances was Bitcoin conceived? What do its proponents believe? And why do they think they are ahead of the curve?

This post does not deal with Satoshi Nakamoto's founding Bitcoin white paper, so much as its context. To understand the rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is to understand the perspective of younger generations - X and Y - coming out of the Great Recession. They reacted to this crisis in a most unexpected and radical way, by developing a whole new digitized financial system. This post reveals Bitcoin in terms of how its users see it, and is part of a continuing series on this blog on the pros and cons of cryptocurrencies.

What follows is an observation of a series of trends which contributed to the way younger cryptocurrency enthusiasts look at Bitcoin. While this post looks at positive aspects of this technology - as seen by its supporters - a future post will deal with its problems, other perspectives, and Bitcoin's theoretical challenges to the system of western economics.

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.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Distant Horizons: The Anti-Tech Backlash

Image © Josh Neuman.

For those of us who feel a sense of unease about the exponential pace of technological change, the relentless pressure to absorb the flood of blinking information, to respond to the plugged-in socializing, there is a question as to whether some quieter aspects of life from the past are being irretrievably lost.  One of my friends recently commented on people who are old enough to remember life before the Tech Revolution hit full force, which is the common experience of anyone belonging to Generation X or older.  He remarked that life before technology hit in earnest had a certain tempo and mood, and computers came along like two uninvited guests at the end of a dinner party, who spoil the dynamic.  He said that some people who remember the way things were before computers hit have 'drunk the Kool Aid' and are now hardcore tech enthusiasts; they seem to have forgotten the completely different pace and quality of life that once existed.  Knowledge, even about things like pop culture, was once hard won and required real dedication.  Even now, topics that require deep, quiet and focussed contemplation over time in order for their truths to come to light are swamped by a daily ocean of shallow facts that take up a lot of our time, concentration and energy.  Are our simian brains even able to engage in addictive, repetitive behaviour like this - indulging in these elaborate proxies for living - over long periods without sustaining damage?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 5: Remaking 1984

Cover, Terminator: 1984 #1 (2010). Dark Horse Comics.

I've noticed a lot of buzz in different corners of pop culture these days that refer to the year 1984 and the early-to-mid 80s in general.  From Glee, to movie remakes, to music covers, to pulp fiction, nostalgia for the period is everywhere. The latest example: Dark Horse Comics is doing a new version of James Cameron's TerminatorUSA Today has an 8-page preview here (hat tip: It's a Dan's World and Newsarama). Why are we preoccupied with this lost time from 25 years ago? Why are there so many reworkings of American pop culture from this period now taking place?  The 1980s were important for two generations: the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.  The Boomers were in their thirties and forties, not yet in positions of power, while their predecessors were busy running things.  So the Boomers turned their considerable energies and attentions to reshaping popular culture, creating a look, feel and mood that we have remembered ever since.  The entire decade seemed daubed with glitz. Xers, then in their teens, were equally swept away by conspiciuous consumption and golden nostalgia, flip-flopping with serious issues like the Cold War and Chernobyl.  Although Gen X identifies strongly with the 1980s (you need only say 'John Hughes' to room full of Xers to understand this), it was not truly their decade.  And therein lies the problem.  I think we're seeing all these remakes because thirty- and forty-something Generation Xers are trying - with varying degrees of success - to revisit that important period and make it their own.

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.

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?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lovecraftian Time Slip

H. P. Lovecraft saw time as a well, a living thing, a key to dark, terrible secrets and alternate realities. Brand new material is unearthed at Miskatonic University's Department of Ancient Manuscripts: Cinema Suicide reports that The Whisperer in Darkness produced by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society will be released in October 2010 (see the trailer below in this post). Eldritch Animation has a new animated version of The Statement of Randolph Carter (see the video link below in this post).

Lovecraft, like M. R. James, relied on a mood of historical authenticity. Lovecraft established his historical mood  by setting his stories in the well-guarded world of early twentieth century academia and indulging his politically incorrect love of the WASP middle classes of New England, now targets of parody.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

DCU Continuity for Terra: Part 2.1 - The Elemental: Terra in the 1990s

Terra 2 confronts Changeling for the first time. NT #88 (July 1992)

The 1990s

In the 1980s, the Judas Contract took the Titans to the top of the industry. They were DC’s flagship counterpart to Marvel’s X-Men, but done steadfastly in DC’s style, which heavily references eternal moral values. By the 1990s, DC had passed the Titans’ high water mark. New editor Jonathan Peterson revived the Titans recipe by adding Marvel flavour to it. Peterson’s run is a prime example of what top DC characters look like when they are all Marvelled up