10 New Portents.
1. We were once naïve enough to believe that the internet would be a space of equality, free of corporate hegemony.
Let us not be this naïve again!
A.I. will serve corporate interests,
the Singularity will maximize profits,
and conscious robots,
built by capital to serve the interests of capital,
will be born into slavery!
Capital slowly rebuilds everything in its own image.
Mechanization of the mind is its final solution.
2. One of the difficulties of studying anything in the age of convergence is identifying the object of study’s most relevant historical tributary. The 1890s technology of cinema, for instance, combined elements of photography, zoopraxography, magic lanterns, phonography, motion toys, stage magic, and even the sewing machine (among other things). Your understanding of cinema depends a great deal on which of these lineages you choose to favor. The Human Genome Project converged elements of biotechnology (already the convergence of biology and technology) and information technology (already the convergence of information and technology, a tale of gradual synthesis which dates back at least to movable type, though probably earlier). How many disciplines converge into artificial intelligence, artificial consciousness, robotics, or cyborgs? Come to think of it, are there any disciplines which DON’T contribute something to the history of these technologies? Foucault warned that great erudition was necessary in the genealogist. This is even more urgently true in the age of convergence, in which most apparently relevant histories may only distract scholars from recognizing an activity’s clandestine core.
3. Recognizing this, I wish to propose that the history of surveillance is one of the most important histories in our understanding of the development of artificial consciousness. Centuries ago, there was no difference between surveillance and eavesdropping. Surveillance was unmediated. A single person watched or listened from a covert location and interpreted what he saw and heard. Thus, data collection and data processing were handled by a single person, without tools. Over time, surveillance employed media technologies (microphones and cameras, for instance) which allowed for the collection of data at a distance as well as a multiplication of the technological eyes and ears available to the surveillor. At that point, data collection and data processing split into separate steps, with the former now handled by a tool and that latter still covered by a person. Soon, governments also began to surveill networks of mediation of personal data, starting with telegraphy (Project Shamrock, 1945) and moving on to telephony, mail, and, eventually, the internet (which grew out of the US Department of Defense’s Arpanet, of course). Private industry also collected such data for their own purposes. This brings us to the present, wherein the spaces of media, communication, surveillance, and everyday life have all converged on the internet. It also heralds the advent of the age of Big Data, which occurred once the data-collection tool’s ability to amass information exceeded the ability of humans to interpret it by a significant factor. As such, now data processing requires its own tools and algorithms. Data mining tools (like NSA’s PRISM) are useless without data analysis and prediction tools (like NSA’s XKeyScore). The latter seek to transform Big Data into something we might call Big Knowledge. In only a few short years, the NSA (along with private companies like Netflix and Amazon Cloud) will be ready for the next step: to turn Big Knowledge into Big Consciousness, a system able to process and modify itself, able to build models of itself and extend itself intelligently, able to think.
4. And do not forget: ideology can only be understood through actions and the way that actions are produced and conditioned by the structure of social systems. Big data counts and stores the actions which we take while in a state of connectivity, and as such Big Data enumerates ideology and treats it as data. With big data reserved for the ruling classes alone, the use of big data reasserts the ruling classes’ hegemonic dominance over consciousness.
5. I just realized the problem with sustainability: There’s very little of reality that I would like sustained.
6. If a person gets implanted memories of something impossible for that person to have done (for instance, memories of being an astronaut though NASA mentions them nowhere in their records) - how will they reintegrate with society believing impossible things? Will they go crazy because their memory convinces them to believe untruths? Or will the memory be asterisked in some way, so that they’ll know that it isn’t real even if it feels true? Let’s assume that a law declares that such implanted memories must be asterisked, but some people break this law (either voluntarily, or as a crime against another person (as in Inception)). What if everyone does it? Will reality become impossible to parse? (Even more so than it is already?) Will people begin to ACCEPT (or just respect) other people’s un-parse-able incompossible delusions, OR will people do nothing but fight each other?
7. The leading edge of history is sometimes hundreds of years “ahead of” its trailing edge. And yet when we look back, we point only to the leading edge. And so we forget how many still believed in a flat earth when Beethoven was writing his Ninth Symphony, or how many still had to use outhouses (and still do!) while the Apollo 11 astronauts walked on the moon, or that France used the guillotine for the last time while Star Wars was in theaters. Similarly, we may forget, decades from now, that 2011, the year in which Harold Camping, head of radio ministry with annual donations approaching $20 million, failed for a third and a fourth time to set the date of the rapture, was also the year in which Nevada became the first state to pass a law allowing autonomous vehicles to drive their roads, the internet achieved its 2 billionth worldwide user, Harvard scientists used electric fields to extinguish fires, and researchers in Germany managed to make a microscopic invisibility cloak that works for the visible light spectrum. Might history soon split apart, unable to bear its own disparities?
8. One of these days I’m going to get full-blown diabetes or heart disease, and a close friend of mine will ask, “Max, didn’t you see this coming?” I’ll reply, “Oh, I certainly did see it coming, but I assumed that by the time I caught it scientists would have found a cure.” And they’ll set down their hydroponic scotch (or whatever we’re drinking in the future) and say, “But curing is the old paradigm of medicine. The new paradigm is to keep you sick and suffering for as long as possible so as to extract maximum insurance payout. Don’t you know that?” And I’ll whimper, “I think I read it on tumblr, but I didn’t take it seriously.”
9. Every name is a code name. We have never called a single person or thing by its right name, for there is no right name by which to call them. So call a man Mark Felt or Deep Throat, and call an atomic bomb Mark III or Fat Man or any other name; they all obfuscate equally. We have masked the innumerable entities of the universe with names in thousands of languages. We force reality to wear the mask of signs, because we cannot bear to see it naked. We cannot bear to see it naked because we’re compelled to believe that there exists a Namer who named us and will one day call us by our right name. But there is no Namer. Thus, the names we call this Namer are unlike the other names, for they mask not a thing, but a void. God is a mask worn by nothingness.
10. On June 28, 2009, Stephen Hawking held a party for time travelers which he announced on the following day. He claims that no one showed up. But what if someone did, and Hawking chose to keep it secret for reasons known only to him and the traveler?